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The Importance of Active Motor Play for Children

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The Importance of Active Motor Play for Children





Every child, regardless of their limitations or physical ability, needs access to active play that challenges their motor skills in an outdoor environment. Children need the stimulus of risk to gauge their physical capability. Greenfield (2004) agrees stating that eliminating risk from outdoor play areas often leads to inappropriate risk-taking in a fearless and destructive manner in an attempt to make play more exciting. Imposing such limits on children's play also denies them the opportunity to learn about risks and risk management in the real world. Greenman (2007 p291) notes that outdoor play spaces are areas where reputations are made and structures are necessary that allow children to test their limits and in the process build self esteem. Children also need alternatives if they change their mind or require time to assess the situation before they act. Break away points with alternative routes up and down are required that provide opportunities for children to build their self esteem gradually without any pressure (Greenman, 2007).


This article will identify 3 motor play spaces that children can engage with that will help develop their active motor play skills.


Swinging Equipment


Swings are an important element for children in an outdoor environment. They provide a number of health benefits including spatial awareness, balance and sensory integration. Their movement also allows the child the opportunity to learn about themselves and the world around them, and in the process gain greater competence and confidence in themselves (Bilton, 2002). Bilton (2002) notes that children  who use swings not only experience the joy of moving, but also gain physical competence and confidence that promotes a life-long participation in physical activity and promotes a healthy lifestyle (Hihiko, 2004). Fundamental movement skills that are used in swinging also provide the foundation for the more specialised skills used in games, sports, dance, gymnastics and a range of other outdoor education and recreation activities that children may become involved in later in their lives. Louv (2005) notes, that swinging equipment can also enhance interconnected pathways to the brain. He notes, that the act of spinning a tire swing stimulates different parts of a child’s brain simultaneously which can improve rhythm, balance, spatial awareness and muscle control.


Climbing Structures


Climbing structures are fun and exciting for children. They offer layers of complexity that appeal to the young uninitiated child who is starting out for the first time; up to the older child who gets bored with the standard playground and want a unique challenge (Miller, 2005). With climbing structures there are multiple routes up and countless paths back to the bottom. These challenges test spatial, directional and body awareness as well as motor fitness skills which include agility, speed, power, balance, and coordination (Frost et al, 2004). Climbing trees, platforms, ropes, ladders and sculptures build these skills because they don’t just depend on the height but also on size, spacing footholds and handholds of the equipment. Climbing structures which incorporate ropes or fixed ladders that move, help build spatial, directional and body awareness (Greenman, 2007).

Throwing and Kicking


Throwing and kicking are important motor play elements that have long term benefits for a child as they grow and develop. Research shows that these elements not only build motor fitness skills like ‘hand–eye’, ‘foot-eye’ coordination but also dictates the level of physical fitness your child will carry into their adolescent years (Barnett et al, 2008). Stodden, Langendorfer, and Roberton (2009) agree noting that in their research they found that 79% of the variance in young adults' physical fitness was accounted for by three motor skills (i.e. jumping, throwing, and kicking), suggesting that health-related physical fitness is highly related to motor skill competence. If a child is deprived or not exposed to these motor skills it could lead to lower self-esteem, a tendency to have fewer friends and health problems in later life as a result of physical inactivity (Hands & Martin, 2003). In addition, low skill ability and lack of confidence can place children at a greater risk of injury. The above provides evidence that reductions in physical play and motor skill development can present children with longer-term and more intractable risk exposure.


As outlined in the information above, Active Motor Play in an outdoor environment is critical for the health and wellbeing of your children. The cognitive and physical benefits clearly show that motor play improves motor skills, creativity, coordination, imagination, agility, balance, reasoning, problem solving and concentration skills (White, 2004). It is also evident that a lack of motor skill development can lead to a lower self esteem and health related problems later in life.




Barnett, L. M., Van Beurden, E., Morgan, P. J., Brooks, L. O., & Beard, J. R. (2008). Does childhood motor skill proficiency predict adolescent fitness? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 40, 2137-2144.

Bilton, H. (2002). Outdoor play in the early years: Management and innovation. London: David Fulton


Frost, J. L., Brown, P. S., Sutterby, J. A. and Thornton, C. D. (2004).

The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds. Olney, MD: Association for

Childhood Education International.


Greenman, J. (2007). Caring Spaces, Learning Places: Children’s Environments that Work: Redman, WA: Exchange Press


Hands, B., & Martin, M. (2003). Fundamental movement skills: Children's perspectives. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 28(4), 47-52.

Hihiko, K. (2004). An introduction to active movement. Wellington: Sport and Recreation New Zealand. Retrieved 16 May 2006, resources-and-tools/introduction

Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books.


Miller, M. The Multi-Generational Park: Parks and Recreation: December 2005. Vol. 40. No 12.


Stodden, D., Langendorfer, S., & Roberton, M. A. (2009). The association between motor skill competence and physical fitness in young adults. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 80, 223-229.

White, R. (2004). Interaction with nature during the middle years: Its importance to children's development and nature's Future. Retrieved from

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