British Gymnastics’ play programme helps young children develop physical skills. Jo Prescott and Liz Liebman explain how

A significant amount of research has been undertaken into the importance of establishing health and fitness principles in the early years. As the Choosing Health white paper puts it, ‘People’s patterns of behaviour are often set early in life and influence their health throughout their lives.’

Obesity, particularly in children, has become a serious problem, with a 25% increase in the number of overweight and obese children since 1995. The chief medical officer at the Department of Health has stated that physical activity during the early years is important in ‘helping to prevent excess weight gain during childhood’ and in establishing ‘activity as a lifetime habit’.

British Gymnastics believe that for children, learning to move and manage their body is just as important as learning to read and write. Studies have shown that children who fail to develop fundamental movement skills are three times more sedentary than skilful children of the same age (Magill, 1993). Children who develop sound fundamental movement skills are more likely to develop the confidence and self-esteem they need to take part in physical activity and sport. These children are also more likely to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, thereby improving health and reducing the risk of obesity.

Research has also shown that there are key periods in a child’s development during which they are particularly receptive to developing their physical abilities and learning new skills (Bayli & Hamilton, 2003). It is important to recognise these sensitive periods and to capitalise on them by providing opportunities for children to develop their skills in fun, creative and stimulating ways.

Using our vast wealth of experience in designing and delivering programmes for young people, British Gymnastics have developed a pathway of ‘Fundamental Movement’ ideas. The pathway aims to encourage children to become physically active from a young age and to guide the development of fundamental movement skills from eight weeks through to approximately eight years of age.

A structured programme

The structured programme is a physical play programme aimed at all children from walking to six years, and incorporates fundamental skills that provide the foundation for all sports as well as for an active, healthy future. The programme provides a broad range of ideas and activities that are specifically designed to help young children enjoy physical activity.

Until the child is about three years of age they need to be accompanied by an adult. Sessions are organised to involve the adult and to make them feel an integral part of the activities. At approximately three years of age children develop a growing independence and will be ready to work with the coach/leader on their own.

There are a wide range of physical activities based around 16 different themes; eight are for the accompanied children (Adult & Child) and eight for the older children (Independent Child). The themes are supported by wall charts and work cards. To help leaders with their planning the wall charts have been designed and laid out as a lesson, with the following headings:

  • warm-up
  • coordination
  • large apparatus
  • locomotory skills
  • balance activities
  • rebound
  • action / rhyme
  • educational element
  • rolling
  • cool down

In addition to the many physical benefits, the programme also aims to provide a wealth of opportunity for the child to develop as a whole person. Through structured activities children are encouraged to develop social awareness – understanding socially acceptable behaviour, respect, manners and cooperation; intellectual awareness – thinking for oneself, problem solving and listening skills plus the educational value and pleasure of listening and moving to music, using rhythms, sound, varying tempos and nursery rhymes to enhance linguistic skills.

The programme helps children to learn to manage their bodies and to develop the essential basic movement skills and confidence they need to participate in physical activity and sport through childhood and into adult life. The programme also begins to lay the foundations for the development of important attributes such as strength, endurance, agility, balance, flexibility, power, coordination and spatial awareness.

A training module has been specifically designed for those who wish to deliver the British Gymnastics Fundamental Movement Ideas Programmes. Courses are run by qualified British Gymnastics early years fundamental tutors, including an in-course assessment. This is not a British Gymnastics Coaching award, but a training module for all early years practitioners, who wish to take the programme into their environment.

Courses are split into two modules, both covering the skills included within the programme and how to operate the reward scheme. Course one is a four hour module, for candidates who have prior knowledge of child development and child psychology, with an understanding of health, welfare and safety issues. Course two is a six-hour module with related theory and practical content.

Within this framework sits the FUNdamental Movement Ideas for Early Years Award Scheme, with a key aim being to provide healthy lifestyles for children that they will adopt throughout their lives.

The best start in life

FUNdamentals was created to respond to the demands of both the education sector and parents for a structured programme that introduces pre-school children to the basic skills required for an active lifestyle, as well as providing an effective introduction to all sporting disciplines. In addition, the scheme supports many of the key objectives laid out by the government to provide children with ‘the best start in life’.

Jo Prescott is programme manager and Liz Liebman is head of Gymnastics Enterprises at British Gymnastics.

For more information on the FUNdamental Movement Ideas for Early Years Programme contact: 0845 1297129 ext: 2355 or visit


  • Magill, R (1993) Motor Learning Concepts and Applications, Madison: Brown & Benchmark
  • Bayli, I and Hamilton, A (2003) ‘Long-term Athlete Development Update: Trainability in Childhood and Adolescence’, Faster, Higher, Stronger, Magazine 20, 6-8.