Evidence for Learning: Physical development approaches

Physical development approaches

The summary below presents the research evidence on physical development approaches in the Australasian context.

The Early Childhood Education Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of communication and language approaches on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.

This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on communication and language approaches. In contrast to the Early Childhood Education Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by early learning professionals and young learners. This information is valuable for early learning centres interested in finding out more about particular examples of communication and language approaches that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.

CoLab (a partnership between Telethon Kids Institute and the Minderoo Foundation) generated this evidence summary in July 2019.

Physical development approaches aim to improve young children’s physical growth, skills and health. Activities in this area may be focused on a particular aspect of physical development, e.g. fine motor skills related to writing, or be more general, for instance, encouraging active outdoor play.

Only two Australasian studies appear to have investigated links between physical development approaches within ECEC settings and pre-schoolers’ learning or cognition: in Wollongong, New South Wales (NSW), Mavilidi et al, found the integration of meaningful, moderate-vigorous physical activity was beneficial in learning specific concepts, such as foreign vocabulary; children who integrated physical activity (e.g., acting out the word using whole-body movement) when being taught 14 Italian words in a four-week teaching program were found to have the best free recall, even up to six weeks later (Mavilidi, Okely, Chandler, Cliff, & Paas, 2015). In the Hunter region of NSW, Wolfenden et al., assessed the efficacy of a childcare-based intervention where children were given unrestricted access outdoors to active free-play (intervention group) or provided their usual scheduled periods of outdoor play (control group). No significant differences were identified between these groups in terms of total physical activity or measures of child cognition (Wolfenden et al., 2019).

Several Australasian ECEC physical development intervention programs have been developed and empirically tested. For example, the NSW Much & Move’ program is a professional development program designed to support ECEC staff to promote healthy eating, active play and fundamental movement skills (FMS) among children in their care. Core components of the program include a one-day professional development workshop, a resource manual, access to a health promotion professional to support the delivery of the program and a small grant to support staff training or purchase physical activity equipment. An evaluation study conducted in Sydney, found FMS scores improved significantly in the Much & Move’ intervention group (n=15 preschools) compared with the control group (n=14 preschools) and the number of FMS sessions per week also increased (Hardy, King, Kelly, Farrell, & Howlett, 2010). Jump Start’ is another NSW movement skill development physical activity program, comprising of a professional development component and structured lessons and unstructured activities for children implemented by ECEC staff. In a 20-week pilot randomised controlled trial conducted in Wollongong, NSW, Jones et al., found that compared with children in the control group, children in the Jump Start’ intervention group showed greater improvements in movement skill proficiency, including overall movement skill development and greater increases in objectively measured physical activity (counts per minute) during the preschool day (Jones et al., 2011). Other physical development interventions such as, Romp & Chomp’, and programs based on the Get up and Grow’ resources, such as Learning, Eating, Active Play and Sleep (LEAPS)’ have shown promise in reducing the prevalence of overweight and obesity and sedentary behaviours, and improving educator knowledge of physical activity guidelines and benefits of physical activity; however, these programs have not yet seen a significant improvement in children’s physical activity levels at ECEC (Cleland et al., 2018; de Silva-Sanigorski et al., 2012; de Silva-Sanigorski et al., 2011; Wiseman, Harris, & Lee, 2016).

Cleland, P., Byrne, R., Vidgen, H., Irvine, S., Farrell, A., & Gallegos, D. (2018). Advancing Australia’s agenda for young children’s health and wellbeing: empirical insights into educator knowledge, confidence and intentions in promoting children’s Learning, Eating, Active Play and Sleep (LEAPS). Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 43(2), 55 – 63. doi: 10.23965/ajec.43.2.06

de Silva-Sanigorski, A., Bell, A. C., Kremer, P., Park, J., Demajo, L., Smith, M., Sharp, S., Nichols, M., Carpenter, L., Boak, R., & Swinburn, B. (2012). Process and impact evaluation of the Romp & Chomp obesity prevention intervention in early childhood settings: Lessons learned from implementation in preschools and long day care settings. Childhood Obesity, 8(3), 205 – 215.

de Silva-Sanigorski, A., Elea, D., Bell, C., Kremer, P., Carpenter, L., Nichols, M., Smith, M., Sharp, S., Boak, R., & Swinburn, B. (2011). Obesity prevention in the family day care setting: impact of the Romp & Chomp intervention on opportunities for children’s physical activity and healthy eating. Child Care, Health and Development, 37(3), 385. doi: 10.1111/j.1365 – 2214.2010.01205.x

Hardy, L. L., King, L., Kelly, B., Farrell, L., & Howlett, S. (2010). Munch and Move: evaluation of a preschool healthy eating and movement skill program. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 7, 80. doi: 10.1186÷1479−5868−7−80

Jones, R. A., Riethmuller, A., Hesketh, K., Trezise, J., Batterham, M., & Okely, A. D. (2011). Promoting fundamental movement skill development and physical activity in early childhood settings: a cluster randomized controlled trial. Pediatric exercise science, 23(4), 600 – 615.

Mavilidi, M., Okely, A. D., Chandler, P., Cliff, D. P., & Paas, F. (2015). Effects of integrated physical exercises and gestures on preschool children’s foreign language vocabulary learning. Educational Psychology Review, 27(3), 413 – 426. doi: doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.ecu.…

Wiseman, N., Harris, N., & Lee, P. (2016). Lifestyle knowledge and preferences in preschool children: Evaluation of the Get up and Grow healthy lifestyle education programme. Health Education Journal, 75(8), 1012 – 1024. doi: 10.1177÷0017896916648726

Wolfenden, L., Jones, J., Parmenter, B., Razak, L. A., Wiggers, J., Morgan, P. J., Finch, M., Sutherland, R., Lecathelinais, C., Clinton-McHarg, T., Gillham, K., & Yoong, S. L. (2019). Efficacy of a free-play intervention to increase physical activity during childcare: a randomized controlled trial. Health Education Research, 34(1), 84 – 97. doi: 10.1093/her/cyy041

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Physical activity, exercise, physical education, PE programs, play, movement, gross motor, motor development, early learning, child, school, class, academic, cognition/​cognitive, self-regulation, early childhood, Australia; New Zealand, Australasia.