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Why children need active play

Why is active play so important in early childhood? And why should we worry about getting kids active in childcare and early years centres?

There are important reasons to encourage physical activity for children in early years education. 

The first big reason is brain development and school readiness.  

Physical activity helps develop children’s gross motor skills, and research indicates that gross motor skills are a major predictor of children’s school readiness. In essence, their level of motor skill development reflects their level of brain development.

How does this work?  

When infants, toddlers, and preschoolers move their arms, legs, and other large body parts with large muscle groups, they recruit different regions of their brains to perform those movements.

It happens that the parts of the brain used to perform motor skills are also involved in cognitive skills. Consequently, when children work their large muscles in active play, they also work parts of the brain used in cognition.

When they strengthen their muscles, they essentially strengthen their brains.

This correlation between gross motor skills and cognitive skills is supported by research that shows children with poor motor skill development tend to struggle when they enter school. If we want to help children avoid those struggles, we need to help them to develop stronger brain connections through daily active play. 

You might wonder why we need to do this in early years centres and childcare. Isn’t it enough that children play at home? 

The reality is that many children don’t have nearly as many opportunities for active play at home as they do at their childcare or early years centre. Most spend far more time in early years care than they do at home with their parents.

This is why childcare and early years centres are uniquely positioned to provide children what they need for a healthy start in life: Lots of active play every day.

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Remember that active play is not wasted time. It is how young children learn, and it is an essential part of their holistic development. 

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

Related poster

Download, print, and share our poster on the benefits of active play.

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The Active Play newsletter comes each month with tips for promoting active play in your early years centre. It’s free and you can unsubscribe anytime!

Le bulletin Jeu Actif est publié chaque mois et contient des conseils pour promouvoir le jeu actif dans votre centre de la petite enfance. C’est gratuit et vous pouvez vous désabonner à tout moment!