06 January 2017

Getting under fives on the go

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Physical activity is a vital and often under emphasised area of children’s early development. We know how important it is to give young children the best start in life so we spoke to a nursery that has made physical activity a real priority to find out what they’ve done in their setting to incorporate physical activity into their daily work.

We spoke to Patch Day Nursery in Sandwell, West Midlands, about why they have decided to make physical activity a priority for them. Emma Pate Daycare and Family Support Manager told us about how they initially started with an activity programme after having a number of children who were particularly energetic and not engaging in writing and mark making activities. She said: “We wanted to cater for early writing and gross motor activities so it all seemed to fit in really that if we got children doing more physical activities it was enhancing not only their energy and concentration levels but also developing gross motor skills and leading on to fine motor skills.”

Emma went on to explain how Patch Day Nursery has gone about making its environment more active: “We’ve got an extensive outdoor area that encompasses lots of different things. We’ve got a garden area for children that like digging, we’ve also got some large equipment, things like Connect4. We’ve also got tunnels and slides in the baby room so that the children are really active throughout the day. We do free flow activities indoors and outdoors - the children have at least two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon where they can choose if they play indoors or out. We’ve got a physical area inside the nursery so if children choose not to play outside it doesn’t mean they are not active.”

“If we find a child doesn’t like physical activity or we find that children aren’t playing outside it’s our job as practitioners to find something that they enjoy doing and encourage them to do activity outside.”

Patch Day Nursery has encouraged free flow play through offering children the option of doing the same activities indoors or outdoors. Emma explained: “We’ve got a book area that’s outside permanently. We’ve also got a writing area outside so that the children can use chalks or painting out there. There’s a home corner outside, so if they enjoy playing with the dolls, babies and prams there are as many outside as there are inside. If you were to come and visit our nursery on free flow time we have as many children outside as we do inside as they can do exactly the same activities.”

Patch Day nursery has a large site with plenty of outdoor and indoor space to work with. What does Emma suggest for settings that are more limited with the space available to them? “Find things you can do quite easily” she says. “Set up an assault course with a variety of things that you use day to day so that children can do something quite physical. Try just putting a table out and letting them crawl under it, running round some chairs instead of cones, it’s that kind of thing that I would recommend.

“We tend not to put all of our activities on tables. We put things on the floor for painting activities that children do. We put paper all over the floor and paint their feet and they can run over it. Not every table has chairs either.”

Many settings have problems getting parents on board with the importance of physical activity. Emma explained that they address some of these issues by making expectations very clear before children are enrolled at the nursery. “When people sign their children up with us we have an information session and a one-to-one with the parents. Part of what we tell them is that there is an expectation that the children bring wellies and sun protection in the summer. It’s a non-negotiable if you like; if you sign your child up here this is the expectation.”

As well as helping children’s physical development staff at Patch Day Nursery have seen a number of other benefits to children’s development. Emma explained: “We’ve definitely seen a lot more positive behaviour, which I think is a really big thing. The progress that they have made in physical development is really good but we’ve also seen a change in their ability to carry out fine motor tasks such as their ability to hold a pencil or use scissors. We’ve seen an improvement in life skills such as the ability to put their own coat on, skills which are really important to them.”

And finally…
What tips would Emma give to other settings who are unsure about encouraging physical activity? “Stop looking so academically and look at being more active with the children. It’s about going with the children’s interests and going with how children learn rather than what we perceive as children learning, they’re guiding us really.”