Movement play in the early years


Movement is a child’s first language

Babies are born knowing how to grab and clasp. Even tiny babies show us with a move of their head if they are interested in something. New parents quickly tune in to their baby’s body language to understand their needs.

Babies must be enabled to move their bodies freely as they develop

This encourages physical, social and emotional well-being, better communication skills and healthy physical development.All that spinning, crawling, jumping, falling over and running is essential. It may be tiring to keep up with, but without these essential movements, children cannot develop into healthy, happy and confident individuals.

Why is movement play so important?

Keep in mind Jabadao’s core principle that “Our body is our first home and movement is our first language”[1]

Free movement play supports the development of proprioception[2], which is essential for control of the body and spatial awareness

In our risk-adverse world, children are being denied opportunities to learn how to safely manage risk. This starts with being denied opportunities to move freely. Small children need to have the opportunity  to fall over so they can learn how to fall safely

It can help to compensate for too much time spent strapped into chairs, high chairs, car seats and bouncers

To better enable children in decision-making skills and independence

To support key communication skills: body language is an essential language to understand and master in order to be an effective communicator. Non-verbal communication makes up a large percentage of all communication

It is predicted that by 2025, nearly half of all men and a third of all women will be obese[3]. We have to act now to protect children from this growing risk. One in seven children was obese in 2008, which is the latest year with available figures

Being physically active supports good mental health as well as good physical health

What can adults do to support children’s movement play?

Cuddles and physical contact 

Enjoy physical contact with your child. Cuddles, tickling, rough-and-tumble.
It’s healthy and fun and can support your bonding with your child. It’s really important that from a young age, children have a positive experience of touch and body contact.
Do be aware, however, that for some children on the autistic spectrum, tickling is not pleasant if they are hyper-sensitive to touch.

Challenge the ‘rules’

Have you ever told a child off for  ‘being silly’ when they are jumping, spinning or moving very boisterously?
Perhaps there are rules about movement in your house or early years setting?
Consider what ‘rules’ you have about movement and then really think about what messages those rules convey. Why do these rules exist and could they change?
For example, why are the children forbidden from running and jumping indoors? Could this be made possible somehow?

Set up an indoor movement area

In early years settings, consider setting up an indoor movement area where children can move in the ways they choose to.
You might separate this area off from other parts of the room, and have soft cushions, voiles, lycra and exercise balls available for physical play.

Value movement

Sometimes we adults communicate negative messages about movement without realising it. Do you dance, jump and spin? Many adults don’t move in the same ways as children unless they have had a drink or two (!), and can feel self conscious about their body image.
Wouldn’t it be great if we did not pass these negative associations about our bodies onto our children? Try to value your child’s non-verbal communication as highly as their verbal communication.
When a child chooses to spin and spin and spin some more,  it is because they need to.


Setting boundaries is important to ensure safety and consideration for others.
For example, you might decide that if your child is sitting on a sofa by themselves  it is ok for them to wriggle and jiggle however they need to, but if they are sharing a sofa, they need to sit still.
In an open space, is it ok to run indoors, or is that always forbidden?
Perhaps belly-crawling on a cleared carpet space is fine, but crawling all over someone’s carefully set out train tracks or puzzle is not?
You will need to think  about your setting or home and decide what your rules are for movement play.
In movement games, I say that it is ok to move your body however you like, as long as you do not hurt yourself or anyone else. There are usually limits on numbers depending on the space and staff who are supporting.It is important to be consistent in these boundaries and rules, especially in an early years setting with lots of children sharing a space.


The best resource is you, and that is all you really need.
I do use the scrunchy (pictured) and lycra for movement play, as these props help to focus a group of children in a shared activity and experience.
It is also possible for the children to explore a fuller range of movements in a smaller space with these resources.
You can make the middle of a scrunchy ring the dance floor for children to take turns on.
Lycra is great for push-pull explorations and full body skin contact.
Providing more movement opportunities for the children in our care is a big part of the Terrific Twos at Riverside project.

Further reading:

Jabadao have some excellent research and publications about developmental movement play (DMP). They also deliver excellent training which I would highly recommend to anyone working in the early years.

Hopping Home Backwards:Body Intelligence and Movement PlayPenny Greenland (Published by Jabadao, 2000).

Everything which is written here has been inspired by Penny Greenland and her team at Jabadao. I have learned so much from attending Jabadao courses and reading Penny’s book. I recommend anyone working in the early years to do the same.

[1] Jabadao core principle (see for more)

[2] Proprioception: The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself. In humans, these stimuli are detected by nerves within the body itself, as well as by the semi-circular canals of the inner ear

[3] According to the Foresight report, a scientific report used to guide government policy (ref

I would highly recommend working with Kate she is a very talented professional, dedicated to offering high quality musicality experiences, she has an amazing way of working with families and young children

Early years practitioner, Rosemary Lane Nursery, Easington

Just to say a big thank you for such a fantastic session! It was so busy and so successful, and reaching so many of our targeted families, many of whom had attended for the first time and still fully engaged with the Sing and Play (singing project) which is just fantastic.

Senior early years practitioner, Hexham Children's Centre

The children respond so well to you. I couldn’t believe the change in the atmosphere once you started playing your flute. It is amazing to see. They are mesmerised aren’t they? I tell you what, listening to you play the flute is better than Kalms

Nursery assistant, Battle Hill Childcare Nursery