early yearsGuidelines

The latest physical activity guidelines, published in July 2011, outline the amount of physical activity that all children under the age of five should do to benefit their health.

For the under fives the physical activity guidelines are:

  • Physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor-based play and water-based activities in safe environments.
  • Children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day.
  • All under fives should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (being restrained or sitting) for extended periods (except time spent sleeping)

Children U5 Activity Infographic

Links and Contacts

HDSD Contact

News Articles of Interest

January 2017 - Case Study on Getting Under Fives On the Go

under 5s

Physical activity is a vital and often under emphasised area of children’s early development. Here at the BHFNC 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.”

November 2016 - Play Toolkits for Parents and Venues


New Play Toolkits have been launched by Sense to help mainstream settings and parents to facilitate play for children with sensory impairments and multiple needs. They aim to help create play opportunities that are inclusive and accessible for all children and contain simple and practical tips on how to tailor play activities so that they can be enjoyed by the entire family. It also includes information on the importance of play, and useful details of the legal responsibilities of play settings.

Read more

September 2016 - Case Study on Getting Young Children Active at Nursery


Physical activity for the early years is vitally important for their health and development. Young children spend a large proportion of their time at nursery and so ensuring that they are active goes a long way to achieving the recommended 180 minutes of activity per day. George Perkins Day Nursery, Birmingham has strived to make physical activity a priority by providing opportunities for children to be active throughout the day, getting buy-in from staff and involving parents.

Activity opportunities
George Perkins Day Nursery use resources such as the BHF Early movers pack and an activity programme called Busyfeet to think of different activity opportunities for children in their care. The nursery provides free flow play opportunities for their older children and take babies and toddlers outside every day. This idea was initially met with resistance by some parents concerned about children catching colds, but they are reassured by key workers about the benefits of outdoor play for health. Research has shown that children are twice as active when they are outdoors compared to indoors so parents are encouraged to send wellies, sun cream and sunhats with their children, so that they can play outside in all weathers. The nursery has spare wellies and provides waterproofs for all children.

They also have 15 minutes of structured activity each morning and afternoon adapted to the children’s level of physical development. Staff have noticed that during ‘listening time’ (which follows the physical activity) children’s concentration levels have greatly improved and they stay much more focused.

Physical activity is encouraged throughout the day in a range of ways, for example:

using basic, cheap equipment, such as plastic crates to encourage creative play through climbing or building towers
incorporating activity into other areas of the curriculum. For example, when teaching numeracy, they chalk a line of numbers/shapes on the wall/floor and ask children to throw a bean bag at number five or run to the square etc
making existing activities more active, eg, adapt nursery rhymes to include actions
adapting the environment by removing some chairs. This encourages children to stand at tables when they’re playing with toys, painting, drawing or reading.

Engaging staff with physical activity
Keeping physical activity at the forefront of the minds of all staff is essential to ensure that physical activity continues to be ingrained throughout the nursery.

The key things that George Perkins Day Nursery has implemented to ensure buy in from the staff are:

completing Startwell Healthy Settings Accreditation - Startwell is a Birmingham based initiative designed for early years settings. The emphasis is to up-skill early years staff to improve their knowledge of health and wellbeing, specifically addressing the risks associated with obesity and build this into their individual day to day practices
adding physical activity to the agenda of every team meeting
staff share physical activity ideas that they have found online on websites such as Pintrest
asking staff about physical activity at their interview and telling them about the nursery ethos when they start work
creating a top down approach by ensuring that the management are engaged and committed to physical activity promotion.

Getting parents involved
The nursery encourages parents to come and join in with ‘toddles’ over to the local park. Parents have been very surprised by how far their children can walk without needing a pushchair which has been useful. Some parents have become more active themselves by starting to run, joining in with the local parkrun and taking their children to the junior parkrun. This is something that the nursery has promoted through poster displays.

Staff have held workshops and parent evenings showing examples of activities that can be done at home to encourage an active environment at home as well as in the nursery and they always include an article about physical activity in their parents newsletter.

3 top tips from George Perkins Day Nursery

Getting buy-in from staff is very important.
A whole setting approach is important for sustainability and to ensure physical activity stays on the agenda.
Make it fun!