Engagement and Efficacy with Early Years Physical Education and Development

Most of us can recall rich and vibrant play experiences from our childhood.  Memories of climbing trees, chasing our dreams with our friends, endless days of freedom, exploring secret places and the unfolding of time.  Physical play broadens our capacity to grow and is essential to a child’s optimal development.  Living in a global pandemic has changed the way children are accessing physical play.  Research indicates many young children’s physical activity levels and physical play experiences have diminished over lockdown particularly for those living in urban areas and minority ethnic groups (The Sutton Trust, 2020; Ofsted, 2020).  With this in mind, how can we provide the best reintroduction to physical and movement play for young children in our care?

FREE Workshop

Topic: How To Effectively Support Early Years Physical Activity In A Post Covid World?
Date: 29th April 2021
Host: Helen Battelley

Primarily, we will need to be conscious of the potential challenges each individual child may have encountered and allow time to develop  relationships and social skills.  Ensuring your provision is developmentally appropriate is essential.  In early childhood socialising and sociable play can often present times of exclusion, especially in reception year during play/break times.  Provide a canopy of equipment, stimuli and games to assist with building relationships.  Make time for ‘fun’ and laughter – Humour might be the fundamental ingredient of social communication (Wyer and Collins, 1992).

“Teaching should commence with the history, present and unwritten future of each pupil” (Freire, 1972).

Start from the very beginning with, simple, fun activities which can be further developed at home.  A great idea is a Fortune Teller, with physical activities behind each number.  Children can progress to make their own, giving them agency over the activity. Extend opportunities to develop ‘mastery’, for example, rather than catching a ball, start with a scarf or a beanbag.  In the first instance goals should always be achievable.

Using music in physical education and movement play can be a valuable tool.  Listening to music together is a ‘shared, inclusive experience’ and promotes social bonding and group cohesion.  Try creating some simple activities using music for motivation or as a rhythmic tool. Try this simple activity, play Bjork – Oh So Quiet, invite the children to travel around the space, when the music is quiet, travel slowly (creeping, tiptoeing) and when the music is louder (stomp, skip or jog).

Points to consider when planning your Early Years provision:

  • Use equipment – every child likes a ‘tool’
  • Be creative – reflect on your activity, how can you mix it up?
  • Plan for a short activity and extend it if it’s working
  • Achievable goals for skill acquisition
  • Adaptability is key in early years – keep ‘emergency’ activities up your sleeve
  • Gradually introduce partner/team activities.
  • Provide opportunities for autonomy and agency

We are all familiar with the Fundamental Movement Skills, also try incorporating these Early years FMS.

F – Fun…make it fun
M – Mystery …times of anticipation and delight
S – Sensory… multi-sensory play with equipment and artefacts to explore curiosity.

As educators, we have a fundamental role to scaffold children’s learning and provoke curious minds.  If we want to nurture confident, autonomous, secure and healthy children, we must practice what we preach.


Helen Battelley
Physical Activity & Movement Consultant

Music and Movement


Referenced Articles/Documents:
Ofsted (2020) COVID-19 series: briefing on early years, October 2020. 
Pascal, C., Bertram, T., Cullinane, C., Holt-White, E. (2020) COVID-19 and  Social Mobility. Impact Brief #4: Early Years. The Sutton Trust.


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