Why physical activity in the early years is so vital

Jackie Musgrave, programme lead for Early Childhood at the Open University
Monday, January 24, 2022

A free course, a finalist in the Nursery World Awards 2021, aims to train early years practitioners to boost young children's physical development. Dr Jackie Musgrave of the Open University, who helped design it, explains the thinking behind it

Jackie Musgrave, programme lead for Early Childhood at the Open University
Jackie Musgrave, programme lead for Early Childhood at the Open University

‘The overall health and wellbeing of our young children is of increasing concern. Their level of physical activity remains stubbornly low, obesity rates in this age group are high and opportunities for children to be physically active are compromised by curricular demands, enticing technology and the lack of safe and accessible outside spaces,’ warns Dr Lala Manners, director of Active Matters.

She brought the idea of specific training for early years practitioners to the Open University and was involved in developing a free course, Supporting Physical Development in Early Childhood, in collaboration with myself and Angela Baker who at the time was working with Public Health England and procured funding from Health Education England.

Angela Baker, deputy director, health improvement and workforce within the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities at the Department of Health and Social Care, says, ‘Childminders, daycare staff and nursery nurses are key to the healthy development of our children; our most valuable resource.

‘We have to ensure that the people we entrust with this precious gift have the right knowledge and skills to allow children to flourish. Over the years, the way children spend their early years has changed and it’s time to look at those changes and ensure children are getting the best start in life.

‘The aim of the course is to give those staff the right knowledge and information they need to make the best out of the resources which they have. I am committed to making sure those working in childcare have the knowledge they need to do the best for every child within their care and this course is a starting point.’

The course was launched in July 2020 with the aim of establishing a baseline level of knowledge on which further learning may be built and to build a vibrant and supportive community of early years physical development specialists. The 18-hour course is divided into three-hour sessions over six weeks, covering six related areas. Each week includes a balance of essential underpinning knowledge and practical advice, with opportunities throughout for students to reflect on their learning with others.

So far, almost 9,000 learners from around the world have enrolled and we have received very pleasing feedback. A practitioner who has completed the course comments, ‘I found there was plenty here within the content of this course to provide me with opportunities to reflect upon my own practice and that of my colleagues and our families within our early years setting.

‘We were encouraged to engage with a diverse range of thought provoking materials and media which looked at the growth and physical development of young children, body systems and senses, how to support children’s developing movement skills, parent partnership working in regard to supporting the link between health and physical development and perhaps most importantly, at a time when the value and quality of children’s play seems to be under such intense societal scrutiny within the early years childcare and education sector, the role of play in children’s development.’

We are also delighted that the course was nominated for a Nursery World Award last year and reached the final.

Now we are asking for the support of Nursery World readers to help us to formally evaluate the impact the course has had on learners’ knowledge and practice. We would be very grateful if readers could help us to reach our target of recruiting 100 participants to complete two questionnaires - one before studying the course and the other one afterwards.

To take part and increase your knowledge and understanding of the vital role that physical activity and development play in young children’s lives, while also being involved in creating an impact on children’s physical development nationally and even worldwide, find out more here 

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