In August 2017, BISP introduced Physical Education to the Early Years curriculum, giving Nursery and Reception students the opportunity to engage in specialist PE lessons in addition to their play-based learning. As there is no set PE curriculum for Early Years PE in the UK, BISP developed its own programme based on the guiding principles of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework.
BISP’s Head of Physical Education, Ali Gates, says the impact of these PE lessons has been “across the board”, with many classroom teachers noticing improvements in student behaviour and concentration, and Key Stage 1 PE teachers observing better movement skills, competence and confidence in students when they move into the Primary School.
Playing a key role in the development and delivery of the Early Years PE programme has been PE teacher of 23 years, Ms Maggie Walby. In this Q&A, Ms Maggie discusses one important concept underpinning Early Years PE at BISP — Physical Literacy.
Ms Maggie, what is Physical Literacy?
Physical Literacy can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life. Put simply, Physical Literacy developed in children sets them up for an active life.
How are we ensuring students at BISP become physically literate?
Our students are fortunate to begin their Physical Literacy journey in Nursery and Reception, where they receive two 30-minute Physical Education lessons a week. It is during these years that the children start to build a movement vocabulary of running, jumping, crawling, rolling and catching. These fundamental movement skills are largely developed through play-based activities.
Creating a safe environment for the children is paramount. When children feel safe, they begin to develop not only confidence in their movements but the confidence to explore their bodies moving. Over time, children start to form a knowledge base — the knowledge of when and how to move in order to engage in physical activities in the playground, at home and in sport.
What do you enjoy most about teaching children in Early Years?
I absolutely love this part of my teaching day. I love meeting the students at the start of the lesson and seeing the excitement on their faces as they enter the PE hall.
I enjoy being creative within the PE curriculum and constructing lessons that are fun and engaging and which allow the students to explore the exciting learning environments we have at BISP — the playground, expansive grass areas, PE hall and the Primary sports hall.
Organising events like the Early Years Sports Day and exhibition PE lessons where parents can come and watch their children are also a highlight for me. I love seeing the little ones have their moment in the spotlight and they do too! They are an important part of our school’s active, sporting community.
I am very lucky to have the support of the PE department and also a team that works alongside me in the delivery of PE in Early Years. Physical Literacy is very important to me and it’s a privilege to support our students in this area of their learning.
What does a typical PE lesson for a Reception child look like?
A typical lesson always starts with a big, warm welcome by the PE teacher, a song or a circle activity that corresponds to what the students will be learning that day. We start with activities that make the children feel comfortable, like follow the leader or copy the animal. We also give children the opportunity to work alongside us as activity leaders. This is something they all love and are excited to do when it’s their turn.
In the main part of the lesson, students are given the opportunity to explore various ways to catch, jump, move and take risks, all in an environment that is safe, colourful and fun so they want to take part.
We use balloons, bubbles, colourful balls, sparkly materials, ribbons, mats, hurdles, cones and many other forms of equipment.
The lesson will usually finish with a song or circle activity, however this year in Reception we have given students the opportunity to lead this final activity and we have seen lots of wonderful ideas being shared involving dancing, singing and praising each other.
How can Physical Literacy benefit society?
Without Physical Literacy, individuals are less likely to stay active for life. That means children who don’t master controlled movements from a young age and don’t develop the self-confidence to move their bodies are more likely to become sedentary adults. There are many health risks associated with a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle. Of course, it’s never too late to start a Physical Literacy journey.
Research shows that continued support for a child at play can help improve a child’s confidence, reduce anxiety and stress, and improve attention and attainment in school.
Physical Literacy can help foster a love of sport and physical activity from a young age and can help in reducing childhood obesity and inactivity in an ever-increasing world of computer games and screen time.
How can parents ensure their children get enough physical activity when confined to their own homes due to a pandemic like COVID-19, the weather, apartment living or if they cannot access organised sport?
If children are stuck indoors, engaging in physical activity every day is really important for their emotional and physical wellbeing.
Throughout online learning at BISP, students in Early Years have been receiving two video PE lessons a week through Seesaw. The activities are designed to be fun and we try to make sure the equipment needed is accessible for the child. The activities can be easily set up by the child as they contain easy to follow video instructions from teachers in the Early Years PE team.
As a parent myself I would encourage parents to make any physical activities play-based or even ask your child to create their own game. As much as possible, involve other family members to join in with the child as they play and most importantly, have fun with your child and make it non-competitive.