There is an increasing dilemma for early childhood educators whereby on the one hand we are given the task of protecting children from their exposure to the sun, and on the other hand we are also encouraged to promote physical activity in order to offset the growing obesity problem which we are now witnessing in this country. Judy Radich, director of Cooloon Children’s Centre has highlighted this issue for carers.
In early childhood services we are often faced with challenges from policy documents and positions of national, state and territory authorities that sometimes conflict with, or make us rethink, how we run our programs and meet children’s needs.
What Should We Promote in Child Care: Physical Activity or Sun Protection?
Promoting Physical Activity
The new Early Years Learning Framework will demand that we underpin all our practices and policies on the holistic wellbeing of each child. A recent project undertaken by the Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA) and Early Childhood Australia has produced a set of resources for directors, centre staff, carers and parents titled Get Up & Grow – The Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Guidelines for Early Childhood. This has been developed on the basis that more and more children are becoming obese, and urges us to further promote healthy eating and introduce regular physical activity. Get Up and Grow supports the Australian Government’s position that ‘nutritious food and regular physical activity supports the normal growth and development of children and reduces the risk of developing chronic lifestyle related diseases later on in life’ (DOHA, 2009).
Promoting Sun Safety
The National Childcare Accreditation Council insists that our sun safety policies reflect current research and are sourced from an authority such as the Cancer Council. The Cancer Council in each state and territory supports us to become ‘sun smart’ centres where we agree to keep children out of the sun between the hours of 11am and 2pm. However, a quality early childhood program gives young children a voice. How can we meet this when for many children a half of that program has to be spent inside?
Maximising Opportunities for Physical Activities
Each centre’s physical environment is different and thus needs a different approach.
- What adaptations can we make, or plan to make, to ensure children’s need for physical activity and space to move can be accommodated?
- Can we include small climbing frames inside, so toddlers can still climb without climbing the shelves and tables?
- Can we provide further shade by way of verandahs, trees or shade sails (temporary or permanent) to allow children more opportunities to be outside?
- Can we close off the covered car park in the middle of the day to create a bike track where children have greater physical freedom?
- What changes can I make to our daily routine and staffing practices so children go outside early, as they first arrive each morning?
- Can I increase my repertoire of songs and games that can be played inside or outside that give children physical challenges?
- How can I communicate to parents the importance of physical activity and its place in young children’s overall development, and that it is not at the expense of more ‘academic’ learning or what some people might merely see as ‘play’?
- Can I use the Early Years Learning Framework document as an authority on the value and need for young children to play?
- Do I need to ‘formalise’ physical activity sessions in a way that all children participate, and outside time, especially, is not viewed as merely time to ‘let off steam’?
One policy document must never be used as an excuse to override and dismiss children’s ongoing needs. As early childhood professionals it’s our task to find ways to maximise the opportunities for all children to engage in physical activity while at the same time making them safe.
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