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Put Movement Back into "Play"
by Regional Health Authority, 5/27/2016 2:42:18 PM

Children’s ability to move their bodies with big and small movements, in all directions and different environments is one of the key components to school readiness and beyond.  Moreover, this is not something children just “know” how to do! Children need opportunities to practice and move their bodies through play.  This is called physical literacy. 

Physical literacy means being confident and competent in your movements, trying new things, practicing what you already know and sharing joy with your loved ones through movement.  “This is something that children are struggling with nowadays” says Health Promotion Coordinator Nikki Dean, “one of the main reasons is that kids just don’t play like they used to 10 years ago or even 20 years ago”.  Formal research along with antidotal evidence shows that many children have difficulty performing skills requiring gross and fine motor competence.  You may wonder why this is of concern; it is because we know that in order for children to achieve optimal physical and mental development, they need to move!  Movement stimulates the development of systems in our body integral for literacy, attention and learning. 

However, it is not all doom and gloom!  There are many ways to improve our child’s fine and gross motor skills with play being the basis for learning.  First and foremost, the most important thing you can do as a parent is to provide numerous opportunities for your child to be active.  This should be through both free play and structured activity.  To break this down further, we will look at gross motor skills and then explore how screen time and a small element of risk influences our kids.  

Gross motor skills are larger movements that involve the arms, legs or other large body parts to perform movements like running, hopping, jumping and throwing.  These fundamental movement skills are foundational to being active for life.  The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommends that preschool children get at least three hours of activity at any intensity spread throughout the day.  The goal is for preschoolers to increase gradually the intensity of their activity so that by age 5, at least one of the three hours is spent in energetic play.  Some ways to promote gross motor development in your child include:  playing games that involve running, hopping, skipping, galloping, throwing, catching, kicking and balancing.  Encourage outdoor play with natural elements; jump in puddles, play in mud, climb a tree or set up an obstacle course with anything you have on hand.

It likely won’t surprise many people to suggest that one of the biggest barriers to active play is screen time and technology which includes TV, computer, iPad and, smart phones.  This is not to say that all screen time is bad, and there may be some opportunities for education with technology.  However, we all need to take an active role in setting limits on screen time for children.

Age appropriate risk is another important part supporting our children to be physically literate. Yes, we need to be safe in today’s world, but if we do not let kids fall, then they will not learn how to get back up.   Learning to fall safely is an important part of life.  It can be exciting and challenging for kids to climb one step higher and small successes build confidence.  Sometimes, when the environment is safe, we need to resist that urge to say “be careful!” 

Prairie Mountain Health has been working with our local and provincial partners to encourage physical literacy by holding workshops and training opportunities for Early Childhood Educators, coaches, recreation professionals, community volunteers and parents.  Watch for more opportunities to play and learn with us!  There are also many activity programs for pre-school children throughout the region.  Contact your local recreation department or public health unit for programs in your area.  In the meantime, get outside as a family and take advantage of summer!


Preschooler focus Newsletter (McMaster University)

Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play (accessed from Participaction)

Fit Kids Healthy Kids

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines

Take Advantage of Summer to get Active with your family – use some ideas from our summer bucket list to get started!

  • Play with sidewalk chalk
  • Blow bubbles then chase and pop them
  • Run through a sprinkler
  • Free play at the playground
  • Go on a scavenger or treasure hunt
  • Go on a nature hunt and then make art with your finds!
  • Go for a family bike ride
  • Go for a walk or hike and pack a picnic lunch
  • Try geocaching
  • Make mud pies
  • Raining outside?  Dance in the rain or catch raindrops on your tongue
  • Start an annual outdoor family Olympics
  • Count how many times you can somersault, cartwheel, hop on one foot or frog jump before you get tired
  • Play catch
  • Check out a local pool or splash pad
  • Fly a kite on a windy day
  • Give your cars, dolls and other toys an outdoor bath


How much Screen time is too much?
  • 0-2year old: No screen time
  • 2-5 year old: less than 1-2 hours per day
  • 5-11 year old: no more than 2 hours per day

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