What is it about?

Why did we do the research? Most childcare centres will have policies on nutrition, sun safety and toilet training… and many more – supporting children’s optimal health and development. But less than 1 in 5 centres across Australia have a policy promoting physical activity – meaning many childcare-aged children miss out on opportunities to get active through play. In fact, our previous research found that two in three children in Australian childcare centres aren’t doing enough energetic play – the more vigorous physical activity where children huff and puff. So, we co-developed with our partners a physical activity policy and support package to suppo,rt childcare centres to personalise and implement an active play policy in their centre. We called it Play Active. What did we want to find out? We asked three questions about Play Active – does the program work? How well was the program implemented? And, what did educators and Directors of childcare centres think about Play Active? What did we do? We recruited 80 childcare centres across the city of Perth, in Western Australia. We firstly surveyed all 80 centres on their current implementation levels of 25 unique physical activity practices (e.g., are educators role-modelling physical activity in front of children). In this same survey, we also asked about how many minutes of physical activity they were providing children currently, on a typical day. We then randomised half of the centres to receive Play Active, in a randomised controlled trial design. These centres were provided a word document version of a physical activity policy that they were asked to tailor to their centre. We then provided them support for three-to-five months to implement their policy – for example, research assistants (with health promotion training) phoned them offering support – we also sent them a resource guide containing information and further resources to help centres implement their policy. After three-five months, we then asked all 80 centres to complete the same survey questions as they did at the start. In addition, we asked the 40 centres that received Play Active about their awareness of the program, how much of the program they received, how much of the support they used, and if they liked the support they received.

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Why is it important?

What did we find? 100% of centres that received Play Active successfully adopted a personalised physical activity policy for their service, which then led to a significant increase in their uptake of physical activity practices, compared to those services that didn’t receive Play Active. However, in a short three-to-five month period, this did not translate into changes in the amount of total physical activity, or energetic play physical activity, that educators reported providing children. Childcare centres that received the program were very aware of the policy and it’s recommendations. The vast majority of them used the support provided to them (75%). Furthermore, 83% of educators and 78% of directors thought Play Active was acceptable – meaning they liked it. Take-home messages Play Active shows promise as a way to address low-levels of physical activity at childcare. Future research should investigate the effectiveness of Play Active over longer implementation periods. But perhaps most importantly, it will be vital to explore if Play Active can be delivered sustainably, for a low-cost, with greater reach. To do this, its vital that its scalability potential is explored, adaptations are made where needed, economies of scale are optimised, and a larger research trial conducted to establish the scalability of the program. We recently received a grant from the Australian Government to do conduct this research.

Perspectives

Our next step is to expand the reach of the program to benefits Australian children Australia-wide.

Dr Matthew Mclaughlin
Telethon Kids Institute

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This page is a summary of: Play Active physical activity policy intervention and implementation support in early childhood education and care: results from a pragmatic cluster randomised trial, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, April 2023, Springer Science + Business Media, DOI: 10.1186/s12966-023-01442-0.
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