Physical activity or sun protection?

In early childhood services we are often faced with challenges from policy documents and positions of national, state and territory authorities that sometimes conflict with, or make us rethink, how we run our programs and meet children’s needs.

Promoting physical activity

The  Early Years Learning Framework demands that we underpin all our practices and policies on the holistic wellbeing of each child. A project undertaken by the Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA) and Early Childhood Australia has produced a set of resources for directors, centre staff, carers and parents called Get Up and Grow – The Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Guidelines for Early Childhood. This has been developed on the basis that more and more children are becoming obese, and urges us to further promote healthy eating and introduce regular physical activity.Get Up and Grow supports the Australian Government’s position that ‘nutritious food and regular physical activity supports the normal growth and development of children and reduces the risk of developing chronic lifestyle related diseases later on in life’ (DOHA, 2009).

Promoting sun safety

The former National Childcare Accreditation Council, [and now ACECQA] insists that our sun safety policies reflect current research and are sourced from an authority such as the Cancer Council. The Cancer Council in each state and territory supports us to become ‘sun smart’ centres where we agree to keep children out of the sun between the hours of 11am and 2pm. However, a quality early childhood program gives young children a voice. How can we meet this when for many children a half of that program has to be spent inside?

Maximising opportunities for physical activities

Each centre’s physical environment will be different and thus needs a different approach.

  • What adaptations can we make, or plan to make, to ensure children’s need for physical activity and space to move can be accommodated?
  • Can we include small climbing frames inside, so toddlers can still climb without climbing the shelves and tables?
  • Can we provide further shade by way of verandahs, trees or shade sails (temporary or permanent) to allow children more opportunities to be outside?
  • Can we close off the covered car park in the middle of the day to create a bike track where children have greater physical freedom?
  • What changes can I make to our daily routine and staffing practices so children go outside early, as they first arrive each morning?
  • Can I increase my repertoire of songs and games that can be played inside or outside that give children physical challenges?
  • How can I communicate to parents the importance of physical activity and its place in young children’s overall development, and that it is not at the expense of more ‘academic’ learning or what some people might merely see as ‘play’?
  • Can I use the Early Years Learning Framework document as an authority on the value and need for young children to play?
  • Do I need to ‘formalise’ physical activity sessions in a way that all children participate and outside time, especially, is not viewed as merely time to ‘let off steam’?

The challenge

One policy document must never be used as an excuse to override and dismiss children’s ongoing needs. As early childhood professionals it’s our task to find ways to maximise the opportunities for all children to engage in physical activity while at the same time making them safe.

Reference

Department of Health and Ageing (2009). Get Up & Grow – Healthy eating and physical activity for early childhood. ACT: Commonwealth of Australia 2009

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Judy Radich

Judy Radich is an early childhood educator and Nominated Supervisor Cooloon Children’s Centre Inc. with a long history of working with young children in preschool and long day care. She is passionate in providing environments that support educators to do their job well, where children have opportunities to explore the natural world in planned and opportunistic ways.

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