What is Physical Activity?

Physical Activity (PA) can be defined as any movement of the body which requires the expenditure of energy. Activities can be moderate and not really cause us to huff and puff such as walking slowly, reaching, balancing, painting at an easel, bending, squatting and playing quietly with toys such as blocks, dolls, dress-ups or trains etc. Other PA can be more vigorous such as dancing, swimming, running, climbing, kicking, hopping and digging. The difference between PA and exercise – is that exercise is usually a planned event and requires a higher rate of exertion over a sustained period of time.

Every child has opportunities to engage in physical activity right throughout the day, but in a modern world where we have so much technology available for our entertainment and labour-saving devices at our disposal, we often forget about the opportunities that present each day to be physically active.

Why is Physical Activity important?

Our bodies are not designed to be sedentary. Movement is absolutely necessary to maintain good health and well-being. Developing bones and muscles need movement and resistance to become strong and to work effectively. When we move our bodies, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to be healthy and to thrive. Movement of the body also has many benefits for helping us to maintain mental health.

When our bodies work well, we become confident in our movements and develop a growth mindset – “I can do it” rather than “I can’t do it”. Many studies show that when our bodies are moving is when we can be at our most creative.

How much Physical Activity does a young child need?

The Australian Government’s guidelines are in line with the World Health Organisation recommendations which state that young children aged 3-5 years should be physically active for 3 hours every day – of which one hour should be spent in vigorous activity which results in huff and puff and sweating.

Assuming that children within this age group spend between one third and half of their waking hours in kindergarten/school/childcare then the responsibility for meeting these guidelines needs to be shared equally between parents and educators.

Increasing Physical Activity: Ideas for Parents

Before School

No television or screen-based entertainment

Have your child/children:

  • Do as many personal tasks as possible – e.g getting dressed, bathing, brushing teeth, brushing hair.
  • Pack their own back pack.
  • Help to make bed.
  • Tidy bedroom/toy room.
  • Feed/water pets and pick up/dispose of poop.
  • If possible, walk/ride to school – if not park the car 500 meters away and walk the rest of the way (good PA for adults too!).
  • Take a ball and instead of waiting at the classroom door – play kick to kick or throw and catch with your child, walk around the oval, or if permitted get your child climbing in the playground.

After school

  • Get children to carry their own back pack (weight should be 10% or less of their total body weight)
  • Spend time outdoors whenever possible.
  • Swim in the pool (if available)
  • Jump on the trampoline (If available)
  • Teach your child hopscotch/elastics
  • Play with balls – throw and catch, bounce and catch, Four Square
  • Walk pets
  • Run, ride, scoot, skateboard.
  • Climb/Swing (Use school playground if permitted)

On weekends

  • Get outdoors
  • Visit parks and playgrounds
  • Hike
  • Take walks with a purpose: How many different birds can we see? Take photos of different flowers and try to identify them later.
  • Go to the beach
  • Picnic/BBQ – visit a different spot each week and explore together.
  • Get children to help in the garden: weeding, raking, planting, watering
  • Get children to help with weekly chores: scrubbing bathrooms, dusting, washing the car.

Increasing Physical Activity: ideas for Teachers

Before school

While parents are waiting with their child for the classroom doors to open – give them some PA tasks to complete:

  • Put out a basket of balls and ask parents to play throw and catch/roll and return with their child – great for eye tracking.
  • Do some Animal Fun Activities – such as 1 lap of your enclosed area doing Kangaroo Jumps/ Horses Prancing/Emu Walking, or time their child balancing like a Flamingo
  • See if they can find 20 steps around the school to walk up and down.

During recess and lunch

Much of this allocated outdoor time can be taken up with eating – so do a quick assessment of how much time the children actually get to be physically active and factor this into the 1-1.5 hours of PA you need to find.

Ensure that there is equipment set up to encourage physical activity – especially climbing.

Climbing is a fantastic activity as it uses the whole body: pulling with the arms, pushing with the legs, supporting body weight, improves perception abilities, is mindful, can be challenging and give children a sense of achievement – especially when they conquer a height or piece of equipment they were feeling a little bit anxious about.

Supervision is important to ensure that children’s expectations don’t far exceed their ability, and to also provide that gentle encouragement or scaffolding support for children who may be a bit fearful. Remember, if supporting children on climbing equipment to offer verbal reassurance first, and if required, physical reassurance at the hips or shoulders rather than holding a hand, as the child will need to use their hands/arms for counter balance.

PA in the curriculum

Plan for PA each day – 15 minutes doing gross motor activities in the morning will help all children develop and maintain core strength, muscle tone and balance required for the demands of fine motor tasks such as hand writing.

Include PA in your Daily Work Pad – Not only will it be a reminder to you, but it is there for any relief/support staff also. Pull out the Animal Fun Cards you have programmed for and make sure you have any of the required equipment organised and on hand for spontaneous movement breaks.

H&PE Team up with colleagues for a 20 – 30 minute Animal Fun session once or twice a week:

6-8 different activities spread across 3-4 stations. Children do each activity for about 2-3 minutes/change then move to next station.

Kindy Teacher Laura explains how she uses Animal Fun

How does being Physically Active help with learning?

Research informs us that being physically active helps the brain to focus and concentrate. A quick walk or jog around an outdoor space before learning a new concept can really help children to consolidate the learning.

After getting the heart rate up, help children to calm their bodies and minds by doing some slow deep breathing or use the Relaxation Meditation to help them to tense up and then just let go of various muscle groups.

Animal Fun is an evidence-based program which is being used nationally and internationally to improve the motor skills and social skills of young children aged 3-6 years.

If you have not introduced this program into your school/kindy/child care centre/private practice as yet and would like more information about the program or to organise a Professional Learning Workshop for your staff please get in contact.