Music and movement - encouraging physical activity


In this blog, Helen Battelley, consultant and speaker in physical development and movement in early education, as well as the founder of training company Music and Movementshares her advice and practical tips for early years settings looking to encourage more physical activity.

During these grey/dull days how do we ensure children are moving enough?

As autumn approaches, fires are lit, the rain falls in abundance, how can we provide enough physical activity to support the recommended 180 minutes per day?

We all feel a little lethargic this time of year, summer holidays seem a distant memory.  The best medicine for lethargy is exercise, although we may sigh at the prospect, we KNOW exercise releases “happy” endorphins/dopamine and serotonin, as well as many other benefits.

Fundamentally, we were born to move.  From grasping a hand, reaching to touch, lifting your head, learning to crawl and/or walk.  All movement triggers sensory perceptors and builds neural pathways in the brain.  The more physical experiences, the more the child learns. 

We learn more physical skills in our first five years than at any other time in our lives.  Therefore it’s important that young children have lots of time to practice and develop those movement skills.

Public Health England (PHE) Recommended Guidelines state that Children of pre‐school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day.

All under 5s should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (being restrained or sitting) for extended periods except when sleeping.

So how can we increase physical activity levels in our setting?

Increase outdoor play opportunities – even in the rain, as the famous quote suggests ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing!’  Children love to splash and jump in puddles, try adding a dash of food colouring to puddles “Can you jump in the red puddle?” for older children ask the children to demonstrate the answers “What colour is a tomato?” (jump in the red puddle). 

Ensure activities are inclusive, all children should have the opportunity to participate – On a windy day make and create ribbon streamers using florist ribbon.  Ask the children to discover which way the wind is blowing.  Use some expressive music to create a ribbon dance.  With fireworks night soon upon us, use Stravinksy’s – Fireworks and ask the children to ‘be’ the fireworks to the music, let them explore their language by adding sounds.

Provide exciting stimuli – Who doesn’t love bubbles!!  Bubbles are not only visually stimulating but encourage hand/eye control and temporal awareness.  Try blowing bubbles when underneath a parachute.

Be more active yourself – it will impact on your work! – We are role models for children in our setting, if we are to encourage movement we must first understand the impact this has on our physical and emotional well being.

Reduce sedentary options – Last year I started a revolution in some settings by challenging staff to remove all chairs from their setting for 1 day a week.  The initial response was not good, and I met a lot of opposition, however after the first few trial days all settings now adopt the 'no chair day' approach each week.  Children will squat, lay, stand, lean, move etc.  This will not limit their experiences but increase them. 

Music enhances mood, find times to explore free movement using music – I am sure we can all associate with a certain song which will ‘get us dancing’, it maybe at a wedding or in the kitchen while cooking. The children in your setting can see if you are ‘engaged’, they know, they can certainly tell if we don’t want to do something!  Use music which engages you.  Make a staff playlist where you all add 3 favourite songs, during a staff meeting explain why these songs are so important in your lives. Each day dedicate time for dancing/moving to music, this will boost confidence and encourage expression.

These are some great tracks I have in my musical repertorie:

Nefeli – Ludovicio Einaudi

Dancing Queen – Abba

Bicycle Race – Queen

Volare – Gypsy Kings

Can’t stop the feeling – Justin Timberlake

Sette Bello – Rene Aubry

Practitioners often ask me how long should our ‘dance session’ last.  What are your thoughts?



20 mins,

30 mins,

The answer is, for as long as every one is engaged and interested, or whoever tires first, child or practitioner!

Let’s create an inspiring, movement based environment.


Further Information

Watch our free webinar on the Importance of Physical Activity in the Early years for free here

If you'd like to find out more about our webinars, including how to purchase an accompanying resource pack for use your staff training, visit our webinars page here

If you would like to know more about Music and Movement's staff training on EYFS Inspirational dance and movement, or Baby Music and Sensory play CPD please take a look at the website:

Contact Helen directly here