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Physical activity in Canadian early childhood education and care

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Dec 1, 2014

Regular physical activity and movement enhances fitness, fosters growth and development, and helps teach children about their bodies and world, with enormous benefits for children's bodies and minds. It helps children build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints, develop both gross and fine motor skills, may reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, all of which increase children's' capacity for learning (Bellows, 2008) and play a role in countering the increased childhood obesity that is of concern in many countries including Canada .

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology released the first-ever Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years 0-4 in 2012; its guidelines state that toddlers (1-2 yrs) and preschoolers (3-4yrs) should participate in ‘180 minutes of physical activity at any intensity spread throughout the day' (Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, 2012). However, we know little about how much physical activity children of these ages are getting due to a ‘research gap' in this area (Active Healthy Kids- Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, 2012).

Today in Canada, a majority of preschool-age children attend some form of early childhood education and child care (ECEC) program (including kindergarten and pre-kindergarten) at some time before they enter compulsory schooling. Thus, proactively ensuring that these environments embrace regular physical activity would be an ideal way to increase dispositions towards, and actual physical activity among young children (van Zandvoort et al, 2010).

While ECEC could play a significant role in enhancing physical activity, research suggests that Canadian children may not be getting enough physical activity in early childhood programs (Obeid et al., 2011; van Zandvoort et al, 2010; Anderson, 2008). Currently, physical activity remains an ambiguous component in Canadian child care programs. While some provinces/territories have regulations regarding time spent outdoors, these are generally not specific re: the nature of outdoor activities. At the same time, requirements for physical space indoors and outdoors are often quite limited, so the space and/or equipment to promote physical activity are often not available.

Child care staff and their approaches to programming (which may be linked to their training) also are key in determining whether physical activity is promoted and implemented in ECEC programs. Researchers Dietze and Crossley note that "The role of the facilitator directly relates to increased play quality and the duration of outdoor play. As well, they note that "Outdoor play requires preparation similar to that for the indoor portion of the program. It requires planning, observation and evaluation" . However, in ECEC programs, outdoor time may be viewed as a time for ‘free play' or ‘blowing off steam', an approach that does not guarantee adequate levels of physical activity. While good physical activity may occur indoors as well, it is agreed that outdoor time (in all kinds of weather) provides an optimal opportunity to engage children in regular activities planned to promote physical activity (also see CRRU's Issue File Bringing the outdoors into early childhood education).

The purpose of this ISSUE File is to gather research on the situation regarding physical activity for young children in ECEC environments. As well, we hope to promote an increased focus on physical activity in early childhood education and care programs by providing practical resources and more information on this issue, which is under-studied in Canada. We have tried to choose resources that are available and accessible online but have included a few research articles that must be accessed through a university library or purchased from the publisher.

The ISSUE file is organized into four categories.
Activity levels of young children in Canada
Research about physical activity for young children generally
Resources for services providers
Provincial/territorial requirements in regulated child care for physical activity, outdoor space and time

 

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