Fun Ideas for Boosting Activity Levels

Published on Tuesday, 18 February 2020

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We all understand the benefits of physical activity for young children but with only 61 per cent of children aged 2–5-years-old meeting Australia’s 24-hour physical activity guidelines, there’s a challenge to build more movement into the daily routine of early childhood centres. 

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare children in this age bracket also scored high in sedentary screen-based activity with only 25 per cent meeting recommended activity guidelines.

These statistics were reflected in a recent study from the University of Western Australia, which found that over an 8-hour day at an early childhood service, physical activity was only 123 minutes for toddlers and 139 minutes for pre-schoolers. The study also found that only 16 per cent of early childhood services had a written physical activity policy in place.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Hayley Christian said with more parents working and more children spending time in care, early childhood services played an important role in supporting the physical development and health of children.

“However, it’s important to understand that we all play a role in children’s health and physical development. It’s important for parents, educators, early childhood education and care providers and researchers to work together to ensure we provide our young people with the best possible start to life,” Dr Christian said.

Healthy habits start early and are more likely to be carried through to adulthood. Even short bursts of activity throughout the day add up. Promoting active play – that’s moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity to get the heart pumping – in your setting can help set young children up for life. 

What are the Australian guidelines?

Australia is one of the few countries to provide guidelines on ‘how much’ activity young children should aim for and they align closely with World Health Organisation standards. Current Australian Government guidelines recommend young children are active for at least three hours a day over a 24-hour period. 

Infants (aged from birth to one year) are recommended to have their physical activity through ‘supervised interactive floor-based play in safe environments. For those not yet mobile, 30 minutes of tummy time including reaching and grasping, pushing and pulling, and crawling spread throughout the day during awake periods is encouraged’. 

The importance of physical activity is recognised throughout the National Quality Standard (NQS) and the Early Years Learning Framework with emphasis on NQS Element 2.2.2: Physical Activity is promoted through planned and spontaneous experiences and is appropriate for each child

Why physical activity is vital for a child’s development 

Young children love being active; it’s their modus operandi! Participating in energetic activity has physical, psychological and social development benefits and being physically active every day can:

  • Help children achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Build strong bones and muscles
  • Improve balance, movement and coordination skills
  • Promote social skills through interactions with people
  • Support brain development
  • Encourage self-confidence and independence.

How to build more movement into the day
Rain, hail or shine, children should be moving a lot every day. From jumping in puddles, playing tips, ball games, pretending to be an animal, or dancing to music, there are lots of activities that can happen inside and outside. Whatever activities you choose, have fun together! Let children see you jumping, dancing, and being silly. The more they see you moving, the more they will want to join in. These moments will help lay the foundation for an active and healthy lifestyle

Here are some early childhood specific programs with plenty of ideas for heart pumping activities:

Sesame Street: Healthy Habits for Life

Children love Sesame Street and this heart racing resource won’t disappoint. With tantalising ideas for movement including ‘Elmo Says!’, ‘Magical Wand’ and ‘ABC Stretch with Me’, you know this is going to be super fun and exciting.

This program includes physical activities that require minimal time and equipment with activities for large and small spaces and promotes fun and easy ways to add more active play into everyday routines.

There’s even a handy ‘letter’ to share with a child’s family with some easy tips to encourage active time at home.

Kids at Play Active Play 

This comprehensive program has been developed by the ACT Government and offers lots of ideas specifically designed to help early childhood educators feel confident to promote active play and teach fundamental movement skills to children in early childhood settings. It’s also been mapped against the EYLF and NQS.

The program includes information on ‘active play’ and ‘nature play’ as well as structured ideas for games and activities – these are broken into age categories – posters, an active play audit tool and a physical activity policy template to help. 

Active Early: A Wisconsin guide for improving childhood physical activity 

This American guidebook covers the full spectrum of considerations for increasing physical activity in early childhood settings. Designed primarily for early childhood educators this resource answers a lot of questions on the ‘how to’ and the ‘why it’s important’. Presented in stages readers are guided through child assessments, engaging families and communities, daily routines, business practices and it includes extensive resources. This resource really packs a punch on the information scale.

Additional tips for consideration

Model behaviour 

Ever heard the phrase ‘monkey see, monkey do’? In the case of children it covers how they can learn positive behaviours through observational learning. Get in on the action and enjoy some physical play with the children.

Professional development 

Undertake a short course to give staff and educators additional skills and confidence in planning and running physical activity programs. NSW offers the Munch and Move program offering free professional development to educators and service leaders in early childhood service in NSW. Look at what’s available in your state or territory.


Organise sports or activity groups like Proactive or dance groups like School Music Incursions. Look at what’s available in your state or territory.

Partner with parents 

Involve parents and get them excited by letting them know about the activities their child is engaged with and why physical activity is important. Send handy tips home that are easy to embed at home such as stretches for the morning or set up a ‘clean up’ race.

A policy for physical activity 

The best way for an early childhood service to integrate various considerations on physical activity for children is to develop a physical activity policy. This can be a separate policy or part of the general policy of the service. Service policies need to cover important issues such as development of fundamental movement skills, active play and sedentary screen time. 

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