Active Early Learning curriculum

Published on Tuesday, 15 June 2021
Last updated on Wednesday, 08 December 2021

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A series of recent articles highlights how children in early learning environments are doing considerably less physical activity per day than recommended for optimal health.

On average this is true of most Australians, not just children, with more than half of us (55 per cent according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) failing to reach the recommended 180 minutes of moderate activity recommended by the World Health Organization every day.

Childhood obesity is an equally significant problem among very young children, with 25 per cent of children aged 2-17 years being overweight or obese.  

One solution to this very serious issue as it affects three-to-five-year-old children in early learning services, is the Australian College of Physical Literacy’s Active Early Learning (AEL) Curriculum. An intense study conducted by researchers from ACPL - including the college’s CEO Andrew Smith and Director of Education Dr Sandra Daley, and Dr Rohan Telford from the University of Canberra - led to the development of this physical literacy program for children in ECEC. 

The AEL Curriculum is designed to get young kids moving more every day, and not just for the physical benefits. Although physical health is an important goal of the program, it is just as focused on improving the cognitive, psychological, and social development of children in early learning environments through physical activity.

The program is said to help make the children of Australia ‘Healthier, Fitter and Smarter’ by providing:

  1. Significant improvements in vocabulary and impulse control.
  2. Improvements in behaviour, with children demonstrating resilience and the ability to control their emotions.
  3. Increased competence in fundamental movement skills building confidence, self-esteem and enjoyment across a range of physical activities. 
  4. Higher levels of engagement both in and out of the classroom, with improved communication, building of friendships and the ability to play together in small groups.
  5. Improvements in the ability to concentrate and focus on one task, an important requirement for school.

To give children the best chance to change their daily routines and reach their physical, cognitive and behavioural milestones on an individual level, “the AEL Curriculum builds the skills, knowledge and experience of educators”, those best placed to impact the daily physical education of children in care, according to their marketing. 

The program is implemented by the appointment of a dedicated AEL coach for each service involved. The coach is a professional with a background in ECEC, who is trained in physical literacy. They visit their service on a weekly basis, working with educators to tailor a program designed to meet the needs of the participating children, and the capabilities of the staff and resources available.  

While each tailored program will be highly customised and will include different activities, the curriculum will focus on:

  • Group Time and Active Transitions: short daily movement experiences to develop fundamental movement skills. This can include activities such as running, jumping, throwing and catching; 
  • Movement Education: group activities and experiences to develop one or more components of physical literacy;
  • Movement Education extensions: movement experience into other areas of learning such as literacy, numeracy, science, music and dance; and
  • Challenging Play: facilitation of free play time to enhance confidence and encourage exploration.

The idea for daily activity during participation in the AEL Curriculum would be for each child to join in for 5 to 10 minutes of Group Time activities 15 to 20 minutes of either a Movement Education or Movement Education extension activity, and then active free time where they are encouraged to engage in Challenging Play to help build their physical skills independently.

There are ongoing components for parents as well, to help children transition from ECEC to school, while continuing their physical literacy education.

When asked about what the highlight of the program has been so far, Dr Daley said it was the sheer pleasure in seeing the application of the physical literacy program work for both the children and the educators.

“There is a real sense of pride, when you see a child who at the beginning cannot complete gross motor skills such as balancing, running or catching easily and then be so excited to show off their skills and also how educators, who in many cases didn’t realise how physical activity can make a difference to children, saw firsthand how it helped them in really important ways,” she said.

Physical literacy is the key focus of the program, not just physical activity. So what is physical literacy, and how does it differ from physical activity? Physical literacy is the holistic approach to living a healthier, more active lifestyle. It gives us:

  • physical skills and fitness
  • the attitudes and emotions that motivate us to be active, including confidence in one’s abilities 
  • the knowledge and understanding of how, why and when we move; and
  • the social skills to be active with others.

The research behind the program has shown that participants in the study showed significant improvements in vocabulary, behaviour and impulse control, and went on to achieve higher academic scores (20 per cent improvement on NAPLAN).

It is believed that teaching young children not just how to be physically active, but also about why they should be more active, and helping them to build the motivation and confidence to maintain more active lifestyles, will lead to long-term health benefits as well as happier, smarter and more socially engaged adults.

To be involved the AEL Curriculum, or to learn more, contact ACPL CEO Andrew Smith on 0418 741 271, or via email 

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