Play helps children learn to be Healthy Movers

Early years healthy living programme promotes children’s self-esteem and wellbeing, helping to develop agility, balance and co-ordination through fun activities.

Chasing bubbles is one way Healthy Movers sessions help children to learn about the importance of being physically active
Chasing bubbles is one way Healthy Movers sessions help children to learn about the importance of being physically active


Healthy Movers


To use play and physical activity to develop pre-school children’s communication skills and school-readiness


The scheme is funded by different organisations in each area. In West Somerset it was funded with £170,000 from the West Somerset Opportunity Fund. The scheme in Cornwall is funded by Active Cornwall and Public Health Cornwall


The Healthy Movers programme developed out of a pilot scheme created by the Youth Sport Trust and Active Cumbria in 2016 with the aiming of boosting young children’s “physical literacy” – the skills and confidence needed for life-long engagement in being active.

The pilot project was called Smart Start and featured activity sessions in early years settings aimed at developing a range of thinking, social, health, physical and creative abilities.

Schools and settings across the country can now buy into aspects of the Healthy Movers programme, such as resource packs and training. It is being delivered in full in some parts of the country such as Cornwall and West Somerset as part of wider programmes to boost social mobility and improve outcomes for children and families and on a smaller scale in Bedfordshire and Southwark.


Healthy Movers focuses on two- to five-year-olds, and centres on fun activities such as chasing bubbles, balancing bean bags while moving, acting out stories in books, and moving from one task to the next by hopping, jumping or skipping. “The earlier children understand why it is important to be physically active, and how that also supports so many other elements of their life, the better,” says Chris Caws, national development manager at the Youth Sport Trust. The programme aims to promote children’s self-esteem and wellbeing, and develop agility, balance and co-ordination, while also linking with other areas of the early years curriculum such as communication and language, literacy and numeracy. Some activities, for example, focus on controlling and moving objects as a precursor to controlling and holding a pencil. “Rolling a ball around your stomach can help with doing up shoelaces, holding a pen and so on,” says Caws.

Early years professionals receive training on how to deliver the activities and how these promote learning. The practitioners who attend the training are designated “Healthy Movers Champions”. They receive mentoring from Youth Sport Trust Learning Academy tutors, who come into settings on a monthly basis to model delivery of the activities and provide support. There are opportunities to gain a recognised Level 3 Award in Supporting Physical Development and Physical Activity. Healthy Movers Champions also provide training for other staff in their setting.

Settings receive resource packs to help them deliver Healthy Movers, including a practitioner handbook with tips to get the most out of the programme, 16 activity cards, reward stickers, and a CD of music to accompany activities. Children in the setting receive branded backpacks that include copies of the cards, so activities can continue at home, some basic equipment like beanbags, balls, and a sticker pack.

Some settings share a Healthy Movers card of the week on a notice board or online so parents can see what activities their children have been doing. Parents are also encouraged to get involved through stay and play sessions held at settings. At Timberscombe Preschool in West Somerset, for example, parents and children enjoyed a story together called The Runaway Train. The story led to an activity session with children and parents exploring moving at different speeds, turning, and weaving in and out of each other and obstacles. “This kind of activity enhances children’s learning of basic physical literacy skills like dynamic balance and co-ordination, as well as giving them an opportunity to hear a range of descriptive words,” says Caws. “It has been great to see the engagement from parents.”


In Cumbria, 731 Reception children took part in Healthy Movers sessions. The programme trained 55 early years practitioners and supported 37 schools to deliver Healthy Movers sessions. When surveyed directly after the training, 93 per cent of practitioners said their motivation and inspiration to improve children’s physical activity and play had increased while 97 per cent said they felt more equipped to promote physical activity. Before the training, 27 per cent of practitioners said they worked with parents to promote physical activity but a later survey found 80 per cent said they were now working with parents. When delivering the programme 80 per cent of practitioners said children’s enjoyment of physical activities and play had increased and 77 per cent said children’s skills and attitudes had improved.

So far, 431 children, 135 parents and 46 practitioners in 15 settings have taken part in Healthy Movers in West Somerset. An interim evaluation of the programme found 55 per cent of children taking part showed improvements in managing relationships and 57 per cent showed improvements in listening and attention. In all, 95 per cent of parents said they had been given ideas to help their child to be active and 90 per cent felt more confident in helping their child to be active at home.


The programme aims to encourage settings to continue using Healthy Movers after support has ended with Healthy Movers Champions training new staff and engaging new cohorts of children. For example, at Teddy Bears Nursery in West Somerset, staff are encouraging children that have already taken part in Healthy Movers this year to show new children some of the activities. The Youth Sports Trust hopes to continue to work with local authorities to roll out Healthy Movers. There are currently plans to roll the programme out in Wiltshire.


Clare Jones* – now aged four – took part in Healthy Movers sessions last year when she attended Teddy Bears Nursery in Old Cleeve, West Somerset.

Before taking part in the sessions, Clare struggled with physical development, explains nursery teacher Alison Welch. “Clare had global developmental delay. She couldn’t even sit still on a mat – it was impossible for her,” says Welch.

Healthy Movers sessions are delivered for around 20 minutes, two or three times a week. “It depends how busy we are, sometimes we do it five days a week,” says Welch, who attended the Healthy Movers training for practitioners. The children are enthusiastic, and often ask if activities will be happening. Welch believes the diversity of the activities and the equipment has supported their engagement, and staff have observed the children using the Healthy Movers activities in their own play.

Healthy Movers sessions gave Clare the opportunity to take part in activities with different equipment and learn how to hold items and move with them. Before Healthy Movers, for example, she would not have been able to grip a scarf, but now she has a much more solid grip, says Welch. Nursery teachers noticed a difference, as Clare was much more engaged, able to sit down and listen to instructions, and was not fidgeting as much. “She was always eager to try out the next piece of equipment and the next Healthy Movers activity,” says Welch.

Teddy Bears Nursery is attached to Old Cleeve Church of England First School and Clare is now one of the youngest pupils in the school’s reception class.

The benefits of Healthy Movers have stayed with Clare in her new school. “I spoke to her mum and she says there is a real difference,” says Welch. “In reception she is asked to sit and listen for longer periods, and she is able to do so. Her core strength has also improved.”

*Name changed

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