New report finds active play helps two to five-year-olds prepare for school

A new initiative is supporting children to develop a good level of physical literacy, which gives them the foundations and confidence they need for lifelong participation in physical activity.

A national children’s charity has said bringing groups of parents and early years teachers together for play in the country’s lowest ranking district for social mobility is improving the ability of two to five-year-olds to communicate and be school ready, while also helping parents to have fun with their children.

West Somerset was announced to be one of 12 Opportunity Areas in 2017, which has resulted in the Youth Sport Trust working with partners to roll out the West Somerset Physical Literacy programme.

The new initiative is supporting children to develop a good level of physical literacy, which gives them the foundations and confidence they need for lifelong participation in physical activity. The charity has said structured play is helping children to be ready to learn when they start school by helping their ability to concentrate, move a pen across a page, communicate and have better wellbeing and confidence.

It comes at a time when statistics from the Department for Education have revealed 28% of four and five-year-olds are arriving at primary school lacking early communication skills – such as being able to talk about events in the past or future, which are expected by the end of reception year.

Interim findings from the Youth Sport Trust (YST) through the programme have found children as young as two are demonstrating improvements in speaking, along with managing relationships (55%), understanding (64%), and 57% have shown improvements in listening and attention.

The programme helps children’s wider development through fun activities like chasing bubbles, balancing bean bags while moving, acting out stories in books, and thinking how they can travel differently from one task to the next. By also involving parents in stay and play clubs, 95% of parents said they had been given ideas to help their child to be active and 90% felt more confident in helping their child to be active at home.

Chris Wright, Head of Health & Wellbeing at the Youth Sport Trust, said:

Movement in the early years is critical to a child’s development, and particularly for the children in nurseries and pre-school settings across West Somerset.

We have placed a huge amount of resource and research into training and mentoring parents, nursery and pre-school leaders to give them confidence and ideas around how to be active with their children and structure play in a way that supports their development.

“Not only are children developing the ability to sit for longer and have better object control to help them write and give them the skills they need to start school, but parents feel more confident to play with their children, they understand why it’s good to be active, and children are enjoying being more active which will mean they can develop healthy, active habits for good future physical and mental health. West Somerset is setting a great example of what could be achieved for young children all over the UK by getting them physically literate in their early years.”

With funding from the Department for Education, The Youth Sport Trust has provided parents and nurseries with its free Healthy Movers backpacks and resource cards as well as ongoing mentoring from its Learning Academy to ensure families can take their learnings home, based on the play and movement sessions delivered through the stay and play clubs.

Clare*, a Mum of two in West Somerset, has been attending stay and play sessions. Her daughter Chloe* was born prematurely and struggled with her physical development. Prior to working with the charity, Clare had low self-esteem and tended to keep herself to herself. By attending all the stay and play clubs, she has gained new ideas for activities to do with her children at home. The support offered through the YST has meant her four-year-old daughter Chloe doesn’t need dedicated one to one support at pre-school to help develop her physical skills and confidence as the activities are suitable for children of all abilities.

Vikki, the manager at Little Berries Pre-School where Chloe goes to nursery, said Chloe now enjoys physical activity more and is actively taking part with all the other children.

Viki said: “We’re in a society where parents feel the pressure that they are doing their children a disservice if they haven’t made time to play with them. Giving them information and the chance to come and do fun things with their children through this initiative will help them so by the time their children come to school and need help with their homework, parents will be able to engage better.”

Dr Fiona McMillan, independent chair of the West Somerset Opportunity Area Partnership Board, said:

This Opportunity Area project is helping children and their families get into the habit of being active and using structured play to support development so they are ready to start school. Involving parents and carers in their child’s learning has been another positive outcome. As well as celebrating the difference this makes in West Somerset, the Partnership Board is looking at ways we can share this learning elsewhere to support social mobility more widely.

The programme will run until 2020 and is delivered in partnership with Somerset County Council and Futures for Somerset.

Frances Nicholson, Lead Member for Children’s Services at Somerset County Council, said:

I am delighted to see the Healthy Movers activities have been so well received and enjoyed by early years professionals, children and families across the area. We hope these skills and activities will continue to be shared, grow and developed beyond the lifetime of the programme for the benefit of all our children.

For more information about the programme and the Youth Sport Trust’s Healthy Movers resources and training for early years teachers and families please visit

Published on 4 September 2019