Promoting Active Play (Physical Activity) in Early Years Settings

The Role of the Practitioner

• Act as a role model by being positive, enthusiastic, energetic, leading and participating in physical activity.
• Enable children to avail of opportunities to learn and practice new movements and skills.
• Avail of any training courses and resources to expand knowledge and understanding of physical activity in the Early Years.
• Work together with parents to share ideas/daily activities/plans/photographs/video recordings of activities that the children are engaged in.
Give parents ideas on what that they can do at home and emphasise the role that physical activity plays in their children’s physical and psychological development.

Parents Should:

• Providing opportunities for their children to be active on a daily basis for example: when walking to the washing line why not walk like animals - stomp like an elephant, slither like a snake, swing like a monkey, and hop like a bunny.
• Liaising with the service to: -keep up to date on the physical activities that the child is participating in and to provide the same activities at home.
• Research has shown that young children tend to be more active if their parents participate in physical activity and are active with them, and if they spend more time outside.
• Most importantly to be an active, enthusiastic role model in participating in the activity.

The Benefits of Physical Activity to Holistic Development


• Have the opportunity to interact with other children and build relationships with others.
• Learn to develop turn-taking skills.
• Develop empathy by helping other children and the confidence to help others if they are having difficulty.
• Become more aware of other people’s feelings.
• Become active listeners and are being able to follow rules and guidance.
• Have fun and experience pleasure from a broad range of activities.


• Language gives children opportunities to interact with others by using and listening to language.
• Engaging in activities provides the opportunity for exposure to a wide range of new vocabulary.
• Children will have opportunities to communicate with others and make connections between instruction and action.


• Physical activity promotes brain functioning and gives the children the opportunity to develop and improve on their problem solving skills.
• It also helps improve the child’s memory, reasoning and task flexibility- going from one task to the other e.g. in an obstacle course.
• Helps children with their planning and implementation of ideas.


 • Improves movement, balance and co-ordination.
• Supports the development and improvement of fine and gross motor skills.
Helps the development of strong bones strengthening of muscles and promotes a healthy heart.


Children should be taking part in some sort of physical activity every day of the week. Young children should be experiencing at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise a day and it should be a mixture of aerobic, anaerobic exercise including muscle strengthening, flexibility and bone strengthening exercises 3 times a week. These 60 minutes of exercise a day will improve children’s bone health, cardiorespiratory fitness and their health in general (World Health Organisation, 2003).

Get Ireland Active (2015) was initially developed to promote the National Physical Activity guidelines. The aim of the website is to encourage people to become more physically active by generating awareness of the opportunities for physical activity at local, regional and national levels.
It also include some tips, activities and motivation to help you get you started. Get Ireland Active states that Children and Young People should be active at a moderate to vigorous level for at least 60 minutes every day.

The National Childhood Network has liaised with the HSE to develop a training programme called Healthy Ireland ‘Smart Start’. It is an holistic health promotion programme that includes the following components; An Introduction to Health Promotion, Oral Health, Nutrition, Health & Safety (Accident Prevention), and Physical Activity & Emotional Well-Being (2013).

The Healthy Ireland Framework informs us that: In Ireland, 61% of all adults and 25% of 3-year-olds are overweight or obese; 26% of 9-year-olds have a body mass index outside the healthy range. Healthy Ireland’s Vision is ‘where everyone can enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing to their full potential, where wellbeing is valued and supported at every level of society and is everyone’s responsibility’.

The Healthy Ireland contains four goals as follows: 1) To increase the proportion of people who are healthy at all stages of life, 2) Reduce health inequalities, 3) Protect the public to threats of health and well-being, 4) Create an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their part in achieving a healthy Ireland (2013).

Active play every day (2014) have made the following recommendations: Babies 0-1 years need to be active several times a day through floor based play. Children under 6 years of age that are walking need to be active for at least three hours every day, this may include building blocks, crawling or jumping.

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