Evidenced Based Research

The Animal Fun Story

We know that appropriate motor skills are essential for all children.

However, research was informing us that children with poor motor skills :

  • participate less in physical activity
  • are at an increased risk for –
    • obesity
    • type 2 diabetes
    • cardio-vascular disease
  • perceive themselves to be  less competent than their peers
    •  athletically
    • academically
  • perceive themselves to have fewer friends.
    These issues can lead to feelings of low self worth and may contribute to a child experiencing anxiety and depression. So the question we asked was what could we do to try and solve these concerns so that all children would have every opportunity to develop to the building blocks for success – both at school, physically and mentally?

In the beginning…

The Animal Fun concept was originated by Emeritus Professor Jan Piek in response to a request from teachers who were looking for an effective program to improve motor skills and social skills in very young children. She believed that if we could make the practice of movement fun, then children would be more likely to want to participate in the play, thereby practising the targeted skills. Most young children love animals and learn a great deal from observation and imitation. Jan then collaborated with an inter-disciplinary team of psychologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists from Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia to develop the Animal Fun program. The skills that a child should have developed competency in to participate fully in active play and learning formed the basis of the program within the context of quality standards and curriculum guidelines.

Most research into this area has concentrated on children of school age (7-12) or on adolescents. We believed that by intervening early and giving young children the incentive and opportunities to participate and practice fundamental movement skills, that it may be possible to avoid more complex issues from developing –  both physically and mentally.

Stage 1: Pilot our ideas:

Animal Fun: A movement program at pre–primary level to promote physical and mental health (Pilot Study) 2006-2007

Funded by a Healthway Starter Grant – this pilot study allowed Animal Fun to be developed and implemented in 3 schools in metropolitan and regional Western Australia. Results of analysis showed significant improvement in children’s social skills. Feedback from teachers was very positive, reporting that children loved the program and were happy participants.

Stage 2: Full evaluation:

Animal Fun: A movement program to promote physical and mental health in young children 2009-2011.

Bases on positive outcomes from the pilot research, Healthway then granted us additional funding to conduct a full  3 year randomised controlled trial to test the efficacy of Animal Fun across 12 pre-primary schools in metropolitan and regional Western Australia. Analysis of the research data showed that children who participated in the Animal Fun program showed significant improvement in motor skills and in their social skills together with a significant decrease in inattentive and hyperactive behaviours when compared to children in the control schools.

Stage 3: Translation of knowledge:

Development of Animal Fun Resources

The Mental Health Commission of Western Australia saw the value in the Animal Fun program and provided funding to develop what was a small photocopied booklet into a set of useful resources. After consultation with interest groups of early childhood educators, teachers and allied health professionals  the Animal Fun Resources were developed.

  • The Manual: Background information, creative ideas and reporting tools,
  • Activity Cards: Practical and easy to use.
  • @Home Book: Information for parents

Stage 4: Research into Practice:

Where we are now.

The Animal Fun programs and resources are now available. The program is available with full support and induction for staff or the resources can be purchased for those confident of implementing independently.

Sue McLaren – Director and facilitator, continues to promote the benefits of the program with Professional Development workshops nationally and internationally. Animal Fun is being enjoyed by children in kindergartens, early childhood centres, pre-schools, primary schools and forms part of a therapeutic approach with occupational therapists, psychologists and physiotherapists working with young children.

Peer reviewed publications:

To read the full publication please click on the links

De Oliveria, Jorge A., Rigoli, Daniela., Kane, Robert., McLaren, Sue., Goulardins, Juliana B., Straker, Leon M., Dender, Alma., Rooney, Rosanna., Piek, Jan P. Does ‘Animal Fun’ improve aiming and catching, and balance skills in young children? Research in Developmental Disabilities, 2018. PDF [481KB]

Piek, Jan P., Kane, Robert., Rigoli, Daniela., McLaren, Sue., Roberts, Clare M., Rooney, Rosanna., Jensen, Lynn., Dender, Alma., Packer, Tanya., Straker, Leon. Does the Animal Fun program improve social-emotional and behavioural outcomes in children aged 4-6 years? Human Movement Science, 2015, (43): 155-163.  PDF [824KB]

Piek JP, McLaren S, Kane R, Jensen L, Dender A, Roberts C, Rooney R, Packer T, Straker L Does the Animal Fun program improve motor performance in children aged 4–6 years? Hum Mov Sci. 2013;32(5):1086-1096. PDF [557 KB]

Piek, J.P., Straker, L. M., Jensen, L., Dender, A., Barrett, N.P., McLaren, S., Roberts, C., Reid, C., Rooney, R., Packer, T., Bradbury, G., Elsley, S. (2010). Rationale, design and methods for a randomised and controlled trial to evaluate “Animal Fun” – a program designed to enhance physical and mental health in young children. BMC Pediatrics 2010, 10:78