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The 10-year action research project that underpins Developmental Movement Play

As we began to develop a new approach to supporting babies’ and young children’s physical development and wellbeing, we wanted it to be rooted in everyday practice - and to be developed in close partnership with the people working in early years settings on a daily basis. We also wanted it to be evidence based, so we organised a longterm action research project and recruited early years partners to join us. It was funded by JABADAO, the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the Arts Council of England.

Gathering evidence

Between 2002 and 2009, twenty-six early years settings (research settings), represented by eighty-one early years practitioners (research partners), joined the JABADAO team to test the approach in two cycles.

They began by participating in the new DMP course, made changes in their practice and then gathered evidence about those changes over a 26 month period.

The evidence draws on the experience of 55,367 child-involvement sessions.

Research partners used a range of tools to gather evidence including:

  • individual action research projects

  • case studies:

  • sensory motor checklists

  • questionnaires

  • observations using the Leuven wellbeing scale

  • structured individual interviews

  • group discussions

  • photographs, film and ‘beautiful books’ - scrapbooks containing anything research partners wanted to collect.

  • a substantial body of anecdotal evidence was also amassed by asking many early years practitioners the same questions over the ten year period.

Evidence gathering was supported by a JABADAO research coordinator. Data was analysed and written up in two full reports. There is a high level of consistency between the two cycles.

You’ll find the detailed evidence here.

DMP Ten Year Report
Download PDF • 24.87MB

And here is a summary of Outcomes and Impact


1. Early Years Practitioners: confidence, understanding and attitude

Research partners’ awareness of the significance of movement play in learning, development and wellbeing changed significantly; they now value and support different kinds of movement play. They have a new capacity to move with children in their settings - in spontaneous ways as well as in more formal structures - and have a new pleasure in supporting children’s movement. In all the research partner settings, movement became an underpinning for all development and learning, rather than just Physical Development.

The average score for ‘usefulness’ of the DMP course was 9.2 out of 10 - scored by over one thousand practitioners attending the DMP course between 2002 and March 2008.

2. Provision


Both research groups increased the amount of movement play taking place indoors. Cycle Two partners reported a shift from 35% to 60%. (This was additional movement, not simply a change of location.) All but one setting created at least one new indoor movement area - a place where children can move freely as they choose. The nature of these areas has varied greatly, from elaborately fitted out rooms to a single, dedicated mat. Practitioners in both research groups removed tables to make more space for movement and moved activities off tables and onto the floor, providing more opportunity for children to be involved in developmentally significant movement on their backs and tummies, bellycrawling and crawling. Cycle Two partners have also used the DMP approach to shape and influence outdoor provision.