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Supporting physical development in early childhood
Supporting physical development in early childhood

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1 What is play?

Children (and the young of other animal species) have an innate desire to play. Yet ‘play’ is a broad term that can refer to a wide variety of activities and behaviours.

Parents, early years practitioners and children may all have quite different ideas about what play is. To further complicate the issue, the ways in which young children play differs between cultures and in different geographical locations, both in the UK and internationally.

For example, a child growing up in the countryside might have different experiences of play to a child growing up in an urban area.

Activity 1

Take a moment to think about your own childhood and recall your strongest memories of play.

  • What activities were involved?
  • Where did you play?
  • Who did you play with?

Now make a note of the sorts of gross motor skills you used (for example running, jumping, lifting, crawling, climbing) and the fine motor skills you used (for example manipulating objects, connecting building bricks).

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Movement in play

Looking at your example, you may have noticed just how much movement is involved in different sorts of play. This movement is often spontaneous and children may be largely unaware of the ways in which they are moving. However, not all types of play involve vigorous physical activity and therefore parents and practitioners need to provide opportunities for children to engage in many different sorts of play, to ensure children get the recommended amounts of physical activity you read about in Week 3.

In the next section you will look at different types of play, before looking at some practical ways that practitioners and parents can promote children’s overall development, health, wellbeing and enjoyment through play.