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Bite-Sized Brain Food: Letting Children Lead the Way

A couple of weeks ago we chatted with Nicky Harveson about letting children ‘play their way’ - you can read our conversation here. We’ve been reflecting on the information Nicky shared with us, and we wanted to a deep dive into what it means to let children lead the way when it comes to physical activity in the school-setting.


Why is autonomy important when it comes to childhood physical activity?


There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that allowing children to take the lead when it comes to physical activity can significantly impact their development. When we think about the children in our classrooms, there is a broad mix of strengths and interests – and the same goes for physical activity. In a diverse classroom, each child brings a unique set of abilities and interests and by encouraging children to dictate their physical activity, we honour their individuality and promote self-expression.


When we think about the playground at breaktime or lunchtime, we see children naturally gravitate towards what captures their interest. This allows for autonomy and fosters a sense of ownership and enjoyment - By letting children choose how they play, we're empowering them to follow their passions and explore their abilities.


We know how important it is for children to feel confident in themselves and their abilities. When we let children lead in physical activity, we're boosting their self-esteem and helping them develop a positive relationship with exercise. And that confidence can spill over into the classroom, helping them tackle challenges with a can-do attitude.


What about safety?


Guiding children to move at their own pace also helps to reduce the risks associated with pushing beyond their limits, creating a secure environment for exploration. When we encourage kids to go at their own speed, we're helping keep them safe. Pushing them too hard or expecting too much can lead to accidents or injuries. By giving them the freedom to progress at their own pace, we create a safer environment for everyone.


How can we measure progress?


Instead of setting rigid standards for physical activity, we can help children to set goals that are meaningful to them. Maybe it's learning to skip rope or mastering a new dance routine. When children choose their own goals, they're more motivated to work towards them.


How can we support child-led physical activity?

  • Offer plenty of options - That might be organised sports, dance classes or free play at breaktime, give children lots of opportunities to explore different activities and find what they love

  • Be their biggest cheerleader - Encourage children to try new things and celebrate their successes, no matter how big or small. Your words of encouragement can make all the difference

  • Listen and learn - Pay attention to what interests your pupils and what gets them excited. Let their passions guide their physical activity choices

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