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The CMO guidelines and what they mean for early years practitioners

The revised EYFS framework includes the mention of the Chief Medical Officers’ Guidelines for physical activity; this blog explores what are these guidelines are, why they are they important, and what they mean for early years practitioners.

Evidence suggests that being physically active in the early years can:

  • support brain development
  • help develop social skills and emotional wellbeing
  • enhance bone health and muscular development and
  • give children the skills and confidence they need to continue and active lifestyle into childhood and beyond.

There is also concern among teachers about significant numbers of children arriving at school without some of the physical skills needed to undertake tasks such as holding a pencil or sitting upright. Physical activity can help to develop the coordination, strength and manipulation skills needed for skills such as these.

Early years practitioners have a key role in helping young children develop a life-long love of activity but may feel they lack in information, confidence or training on how to build activity into the childcare setting. I would like to share some of the BHFNC resources with you and give you some ideas to support you in helping children to become more active.

Exploring the guidelines

The inclusion of the physical activity guidelines for early years in the EYFS Framework shows the importance the Government is placing on supporting children to be more physically active. So what are the guidelines? Children under 5 who are capable of walking should be active for at least three hours per day and should limit the amount of time spent sitting still. All movement counts towards the three hours and it can be spread across the whole day. The Department of Health released this infographic to display as a poster to spread the physical activity message:

For walkers and non-walkers

The BHFNC has produced two information guides for practitioners – one for children who can walk, and one for those who can’t yet. These booklets explain the guidelines in more detail, the types of activity suitable for young children and ideas for building physically active play into daily routines.

Find opportunities for activity

Create opportunities for children to be active throughout the day without detracting from the other early learning goals; physical activity can be a part of everything you do. Think about the activities you already deliver as part of the EYFS curriculum and how you can make these more active.

For example, literacy activities could include going on a treasure hunt for sticks and forming letters with these sticks in mud or sand. Numeracy activities could include throwing beanbags into hoops containing different numbers. Nursery rhymes and action songs can be made more active to include gross as well as fine motor skills and babies could enjoy tummy time at story time. Our early movers training course provides plenty more ideas.

It's a team effort

Get buy-in from staff and parents. Make sure others you work with know how important physical activity is for the children in their care and get them to act as role models. Staff should be appropriately dressed to go outside in all weathers and there could be a clothing policy for parents to ensure children can go outside come rain or shine and use playground equipment freely.


Some settings provide waterproofs or wellies for children and umbrellas for staff to encourage active time outdoors. Parental engagement is very important and we have leaflets that can be given to parents to educate them on the benefits of physically active play and give them ideas for how to get their children more active at home. It is a good idea to share with parents which physical activities their children have enjoyed at nursery and encourage them to support these at home. Stay and Play sessions, parent evenings or special events all provide good opportunities to discuss physical activity.

Be led by the children

Ask the children what they want to do - it is important that children enjoy what is on offer if they are to develop a life-long love of being active. Activities could be created by discussing them with children individually, getting them to draw smiley faces next to pictures of activities they enjoy or by observing children at play to see which they enjoy most. Tweaks could be made to children’s favourite sedentary activities to limit sitting time – such as setting-up play dough at a table without chairs or encouraging children to act out their favourite stories.

Whatever you do, have fun!

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