Physical education

Physical education focuses on movement development and its contribution to facilitating human expression and confidence for individuals and communities. Developing physical literacy is often said to be the overarching goal of physical education. Physical literacy includes physical competence and the attitudes and knowledge required to engage in physical activity for life.

The natural process of early childhood learning and development begins with the body. In fact, movement primes the brain for learning, fostering the neural pathways that form the foundations for cognitive (hinengaro), physical (tinana), emotional (whatumanawa) and spiritual (wairua) learning.

A varied diet of physical activity early in life is thought to increase the likelihood of long-term participation in exercise and sport. It is also linked with reduced levels of obesity and health-related issues. For these reasons, infants, toddlers, and young children benefit from carefully crafted movement experiences and activities to promote physical, social, and neurological development. This requires kaiako to be intentional in designing a curriculum that supports and promotes a wide range of physical activity.

Movement plays an important role in many cultural customary practices. It is a powerful way early learning services can actively and positively support children’s learning about identity, language, and culture – both their own and that of others.


Learner focus

Movement is at the core of how the body builds the brain for learning. Tamariki need a variety of playful, developmentally-appropriate, and balanced opportunities for movement that build:

  • the body for health and wellbeing
  • the brain for learning
  • the confidence to face and conquer challenges.

As well as creating active movers, a well-balanced movement curriculum sets up vital dispositions that provide great foundations for a “fit body, fit mind”. As children climb, balance, or dance, they develop dispositions such as resilience, courage, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking. Kaiako encourage and stretch these by giving children chances, through movement, to imagine, explore, and discover.

It is commonly assumed that physical learning requirements for infants, toddlers, and young children are met because they are naturally active and are experiencing a play-based curriculum. But there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that physical activity has decreased and that many children may not be getting the intensity of activity required to build bone density, aerobic fitness, and motor skills. Kaiako can make an important contribution to counteracting this trend by fostering a diverse range of movement and physical activity on a daily basis.

In today’s world, where outdoor environments may not be so generous as they once were and fluctuations in climate are more prevalent, attitudes towards offering gross motor movement and activities safely inside may need to change to ensure the physical education outcomes of Te Whāriki are met. Incorporating easy ways to co-create any learning space with children, indoors or out, for their brand of “hands-on, elbow-deep, on-the-move” learning is the responsibility of all kaiako.

Enjoyment is the key to long term participation in physical activity and there is no better time to establish patterns of interest and motivation than during the early years when children are generally more open to giving things a go.

Kaiako who actively promote the learning goals of Te Whāriki related to physical education:

  • get involved in physical activity with infants, toddlers, and young children – role modeling a sense of fun (even silliness at times), risk taking, and achievement
  • place high priority on deepening their subject knowledge – and thereby their confidence – in relation to the range of sensory and motor skills that are beneficial for infants, toddlers, and young children to learn and practice
  • understand the value of being both intentional and spontaneous in their teaching – recognising that children can not be expected to discover and master alone the full range of skills and dispositions that will scaffold them towards physical literacy
  • embed movement in the “everydayness” and real lives of children
  • seek to understand the significance of culturally-specific gestures and movements
  • encourage the learning of performance arts linked to cultural expression, for example siva (a dance from Sāmoa)
  • ensure all children participate regardless of their level of ability
  • gift children the language to describe their movement so that physical learning also becomes conceptual and social learning
  • are conscious of, but not overwhelmed by, safety concerns
  • find ways to share with parents and whānau the value of learning to move and moving to learn
  • provide a flexible uncluttered environment – where infants, toddlers, and young children have time and space to repeat physical activities and challenges.

Understanding the centrality of physical activity to well being and holistic learning in the early years is essential to kaiako practice. In Te Whāriki, the exploration/Mana aotūroa learning goals include an expectation that all children will become increasingly capable of moving confidently and challenging themselves physically, and that kaiako will support and assess children’s progress in these areas.

References

Connell, Gill. Moving Smart.

McLachlan, Claire (2015). Children’s wellbeing: Regulations, policies and directions for research. Early Education. Vol 57, Autumn/Winter.

Useful resources

Food, nutrition and physical activity in New Zealand schools and early learning services

This report summarises the findings of an ERO investigation into how well ECE services and schools promote positive attitudes to physical activity, and food and nutrition to benefit children.


Moving Smart Blog

This blog written by Gill Connell is a rich source of practical ideas and theory related to movement and learning for young children. It includes links and references to Gill’s publications.


Play Idea: Physically Active Play – Korikori

This Ministry of Education resource includes a list of ways in which adults can support physically active play and learning across all strands of Te Whāriki.


Sit Less, Move More, Sleep Well. Active Play Guidelines for Under-fives

Evidence-based advice on physical activity for children under five years of age and the importance of play is given by the Ministry of Health in this publication.


Sport NZ Active Movement Activity Guides (Te Reo)

Sport NZ Active Movement Activity Guides (English)

A collection of brochures provides a variety of fun activities to get young children moving.


Sport NZ Physical Literacy Approach

A booklet defines “Physical Literacy” and provides a starting point for considering physical needs for different life stages, including early years.