A Guide for Practice: Developing an Action Framework

In my last blog I suggested that I would move towards the development of a framework to enable practitioners to develop action possibilities that informed their practice. My starting point is the early years where I have been working with practitioners for over eight years. The next step will be key stage 1 and 2. However, this starting point is only one aspect of the story, in this blog I will outline a framework and this will be followed in a new blog illustrating how the framework can generate action possibilities based on Sharing forums in which practitioners develop their own practice in collaboration with their colleagues.

All settings need to consider how they can put in place a form of A Framework to Guide Practice so that settings can address the serious problem that 90% of children in the early years fail to meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for daily physical activity. Each setting needs to put in place very specific action steps.

To achieve this, it is suggested, first of all, that each setting recognises the need to establish an ethos in which they can:

  • Create an “activity friendly” setting in which provision (space) is made for daily opportunities for purposeful physical play and any inhibiting factors are removed.
    o Create a culture within the setting that recognises the need for all practitioners to value daily Purposeful Physical Play as an entitlement for all children.
  • Ensure that all children are given the opportunity to learn to love being active: inclusive pedagogy.
  • Establish a “Can Do” culture within the setting in which all practitioners adopt an enabling attitude when promoting daily purposeful physical play.

This will form the basis for a daily commitment to Continuous Provision.

Continuous Provision

1. The 25% rule – at least 45 minutes of purposeful physical play in three hours.

180 minutes represents approximately 25% of a child’s waking day therefore 25% of their time in a child care setting (3 hours statutory provision) equals 45 minutes. This becomes an aspirational target for all settings – 45 minutes of purposeful physical play.

2. Increase:

  • The number of bouts (through increasing the range of movement experiences on offer) of purposeful physical play each day and achieve the aspirational target of at least 45 minutes each day.
  • The amount of energetic play
  • Sustained activity sessions (longer than10 minutes)

3. Decrease unproductive sedentary behaviour (restraint and prolonged sitting and waiting). Sedentary behaviours are those that involve very little physical movement while children are awake, such as sitting (restrained or unrestrained) or reclining:

This means in early years settings:

  • Sitting for extended periods of time.
  • Being in front of a screen watching television without adult support

For children at home

  • Being in a pushchair, high chair or car seat.
  • Involved in long car trips.
  • Sitting in front of a screen watching television
  • Playing with non-active electronic devices such as video games, tablets, computers or phone.
  • Sitting for extended periods of time at home

There is a need to distinguish between unproductive (simply waiting, hanging about, watching television aimlessly or sitting doing nothing) and productive sedentary time (a child may be sitting and fully involved in play (alone or with others) or talking with an adult.

In addition to the above 3 features of continuous provision for purposeful physical play and other forms of physical activity, practitioners need to ensure that each day there is provision for:

  • Free play (both indoors and outdoors) – exercise play opportunities in enabling environments that stimulate children’s curiosity so that they can play freely without adult direction.
  • Tidying up each day. This provides opportunities for all children to learn to take responsibility and to be physically active. This can become an opportunity for children to transfer this learning to the home.

Entitlement and Cultural Richness – A Curriculum throughout the year: areas to cover
All children are entitled to opportunities for purposeful physical play in a variety of domains that sample the richness of what we have come to recognise as cultural pursuits that we value. Eight areas of experience have been identified that represent specific and distinct areas with very diverse experiences and they contain a wealth of opportunities for children to learn to love being active, become confident and move with purpose.

An Entitlement for all Children: 8 possible areas of experience

  • Gymnastic movement patterns (rolling, balance, turning/rotating, being up-side-down,)
  • Exercise Play (rough and tumble, climbing, run/chasing games, trikes, playground games, heavy work, pushing, pulling , digging)
  • Object play (throwing, catching, striking, construction play, fine hand movements)
  • Games with rules
  • Athleticism (running, jumping, swimming)
  • Expressive Movement and Dance
  • Adventure + ‘out and about’ concept and deep play (risk taking)
  • Calming experiences (Tai chi, yoga etc)

These areas of experience will be used to identify appropriate forms of purposeful physical play that I call action possibilities generated by the child.

However the key to generating regular purposeful physical play and many action possibilities is the creation of appropriate enabling environments by the practitioner. These represent the main key for children to learn to love being active.

Enabling Environments (indoor and outdoor)

  • Natural objects (trees, rocks, small slopes)
  • Specific movement patterns (rolling, balance, running, swimming etc)
  • Specific equipment (balls, boxes, lycra, hoops etc)
  • Music and sounds
  • Zones
  • Playground markings for games, challenges and generating creative ideas.
  • Wheeled toys
  • Gardens
  • Wild zones
  • Large movement areas
  • Dance area
  • Construction
  • Building shelters
  • Rough areas to explore

These enabling environments need to be:

  • Attractive
  • Simple
  • A focus for children’s curiosity
  • Engaging: it occupies their interest for some time
  • Capable of generating positive activities that will stimulate children
  • Challenging
  • Attract the child’s curiosity.

Enabling environments are essential tools for generating a wide range of positive opportunities for purposeful physical play. They are closely associated with each area of learning that represent an ENTITLEMENT for all children in the early years.

Affordances are an extension of Enabling Environments because of their potential for generating action possibilities – what does this environment enable me to do?

Affordances can only be effective if the children are ready to engage and relevant opportunities can stimulate action possibilities.

  • Easy discoverable actions generated by a specific environment, equipment, stimulus (e.g. music) or objects.
  • Exploration of equipment: what can I do with this?
  • Create new or exciting novel action possibilities
  • Open ended – they offer more divergent affordances
  • Encourage a range of positive activities rather just a small number of actions (that are repeated over and over again): what else can you do?
  • Change the layout and the equipment regularly
  • Modelling can enable reluctant children to try things and explore them.
  • Children need time to explore freely.
  • A challenging environment needs to be safe but doesn’t smother children’s exploration and enthusiasm by being too protective.

Running is always difficult because space is often crowded but it can be encouraged if regular walks to a green space are introduced. This environment generates and encourages lots of running in open spaces and provides a wide range of very active possibilities.

Sensitive and appropriate scaffolding

It is important to recognise that children of today are used to passive entertainment and for many they lose the art of playing and generating their own entertainment – they need a stimulus. Thus, practitioners are the stimulus to facilitate new experiences that give children permission to explore and get out to be active. We need to provide the means for children to learn to love being active.

In an enabling environment practitioners must not stand by and simply observe. They need to be interactive with their children so that positive activities can arise from the richness of the equipment and the opportunities they can provide. These interactions are:

  • Modelling how to use some piece of equipment or explore a challenge
  • Using co-operative physical play opportunities with a child to stimulate other children’s curiosity

In both cases, these interactions provide a scaffold to highlight what can be done as a starter. Once children observe some possibilities they will begin to explore other possibilities and learn from each other. Active children who have been stimulated at home to engage in purposeful physical play will provide new ways of using equipment that other children can follow. Outdoor spaces need to be created that stimulate purposeful physical play: without this provision, children’s play will be inhibited. Practitioners can show children a new game (e.g. a run chasing game) but this will be impossible to emulate without space being available.

The practitioner’s role in observing children at play must take on board the need to be on the look out for children who have developmental delays, are reluctant to engage or who hang back and avoid interactions with others. These opportunities are important also to ensure that some children are not hogging certain pieces of play equipment (e.g. wheeled toys) and preventing other children from using them

Enabling Attitude of the Practitioner (highlight the positive, eliminate the negative and promote a “ I can do” approach.

  • Allow children to be creative and imaginative with the affordances in the environment. Don’t have pointless rules that limit imagination or problem solving.
  • Be aware that children need lots of tries and opportunities to practise on their own.
  • Build variability into the way that children experience their world and the enabling environments.

Children at this age are more suited to independent approaches to ‘getting on the inside’ of something and exploring its possibilities. Structured activities (adult ideas of what children should do) can be counter-productive and take the joy out of playing and being playful. Self-directed learning and self-regulated playing within positive enabling environments is more important.

The ‘enabling attitude’ of the practitioner is also associated with providing a context and situating learning in a:

  • Story
  • Dance
  • Action rhymes and action songs
  • Games
  • Challenges

Children at this stage do not need precise and detailed information about tasks or challenges, they learn better from observation and simply having a go. Reluctant children will benefit from modelling.

Finally, this action framework is based on an analysis of current practice over a number of years and collaboration with practitioners to identify what needs to be done but it represents only the starting point. Practitioners need to identify what they can realistically achieve, put them into practice and be disciplined by the realities of their setting. As a result, they should be part of the process of identifying action possibilities and putting them into practice. This will be the focus of my next blog.