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  • Writer's pictureJabadao

More of Me

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.


All settings acquired new resources to support movement play in both the indoor and outdoor environment. Often, their choice was supported by an audit using the DMP five-ways of moving framework, to assess gaps in existing provision. This audit also enabled practitioners to use existing equipment in new ways.


Children in all the settings had more opportunities for spontaneous movement play, as well as more adult-led and adult-initiated movement activities. There was a significant change in the value given to spontaneous movement as practitioners became more physical themselves, both modelling and joining in with children. Children received different messages from adults about their spontaneous movement play, and about their physicality, and as a result, engaged more in movement of their own choosing, rather than movement directed by adults. Practitioners felt that their relationships with children were substantially enhanced by their new involvement in movement play.

3. Parents as Partners

Both research groups valued the involvement of parents in movement play activities. They used many methods to engage interest. Increased knowledge about the significance of movement play enabled them to engage parents in new conversations about their children’s movement. All settings created new resources for parents - leaflets, posters and photo displays. Practitioners organised family movement play groups. They cautioned, however, that this is often the aspect of the work for which they need the greatest support from specialists.

4. Changing Practice: planning and curriculum development

All research partners spoke about new movement play activities being an important aspect of their curriculum now, with movement work routinely embedded within their planning. Some created special planning sheets for the purpose. Planning includes continuous provision, small group work and one to one activities. All settings used more movement observation to inform planning. Some Cycle One settings made explicit links with the Birth to Three Matters and Foundation Stage curriculum; all Cycle Two settings linked DMP with the Early Years Foundation Stage requirements.

The Cycle One special school setting spoke about gaining the confidence to include this kind of movement assessment in IEPs as well as the broad curriculum. The Cycle Two special school timetabled DMP sessions and estimate that one group of children became involved in an additional 3 hours and 20 minutes of movement activity as a result.

5. Changing Practice: supporting quality and sustainability

Evidence drawn from the Kirklees three-year associate project

Where commitment is present at manager level from the start and throughout, the subsequent, informed support for project practitioners plays an important part in the development of sustained new opportunities for children.

Practice changes faster and with greater depth when there is a greater number of trained early years practitioners in a setting. Where there is just one trained practitioner the work is often unsustainable. Children’s movement play is better supported when other staff in a setting are also aware of the theory and practice of DMP; and opportunities for involvement in movement play improve when practitioners are able to share practice, concerns and ideas with each other and with specialists.


1. Impact on children’s physicality

Children were involved in markedly more physical activity in all the research partner settings, with the increase relative to the nature of the provision (part time / full time / continuous provision or sessional). Opportunities also increased at home when parents were involved.

In both cycles, given expanded opportunities for child-led movement play - and freer choice - children chose to engage in ‘spin-tip-roll-fall’ play most frequently and in ‘push-pull-stretch-hang-buffet about’ as the second most frequent activity.

Cycle 2 partners also monitored levels of involvement in addition to frequency of engagement. Again, children showed highest involvement in ‘spin-tip-roll-fall’ play; with ‘push-pull-stretch-hang-buffet about’ play coming a second.

Children showed least involvement in bellycrawling - a movement activity that is considered to be significant within developmental movement theory. In Cycle One, active support from early years partners didn’t make a significant difference to the amount of bellycrawling children engaged in. However, in Cycle Two, bellcycrawling increased by 34.8% with active support.

2. Impact on children’s learning and development

Learning environment

Research partners found that children are more involved in their learning when they are on the floor, rather than at tables. When children are free to arrange their bodies as they wish in story time, (rather than ‘sit up, sit still’), research partners found that children focus just as well and there are fewer disruptions from children who find sitting still a challenge. Their conclusion was that children learn just as well, and sometimes better, when adults control their bodies less; that this way, they have increased opportunities for developmentally significant movement as they learn.

3. Six areas of the EYFS

Cycle Two partners recorded involvement and learning in all six areas of the EYFS during movement play. They reported increased involvement in Creative Development through the detailed data they returned; anecdotally, they stressed a significant increased involvement in CLLD, especially for boys.

4. Social and emotional development

Research partners noted a significant effect on children’s social and emotional learning. They were exceedingly enthusiastic about the value of supporting ‘children’s first language - movement’ and the effect this had on social involvement for the youngest children, for children with additional needs and those with autism.

5. Communication, Language and Literacy

Practitioners across both cycles cited language development as an example of benefit, plus increased support for self-expression using movement as a child’s first language. Research partners, and allied speech and language therapists, noticed that, for a significant number of children, speech and language seemed to improve in conjunction with involvement in movement play. Cycle 2 were emphatic about the contribution that DMP has to make to the Communication, Language and Literacy Development, especially for children with language barriers or challenges.

6. Autonomous learners

Anecdotally research partners observed an increase in autonomous learning which they attributed, in large part, to the new DMP opportunities. They reported children’s increased confidence and self-esteem affecting all areas of learning. One case study, following a group of children from nursery to school, compared scores with the previous year’s cohort, a similar mix of children. The Reception teacher asked the Children’s Centre ‘what they had done differently’ as this group showed enhanced scores in almost every area, plus a greater capacity for autonomous learning.

7. Physical Development

Practitioners’ initial reason for learning about DMP is generally to enhance the Physical Development area of their provision. Research partners agreed that children become more physically confident when they are more able to choose their own ways of moving; and that most (but not all) children are more able to risk assess for themselves than adults generally allow.

However, after they had become immersed in the DMP approach, all research partners felt that PSE and CLLD were the most significant areas of benefit.

8. Impact on wellbeing

The most significant evidence returned by research partners was on children’s levels of wellbeing. Detailed evidence is taken from Cycle 2 research partners who observed children in 42 case studies in both general activities and in specific movement play activities.

Children showed increased levels of wellbeing in all seven areas of the Laevers wellbeing scale when they are involved in movement play, varying from a 13% increase in ‘openness and receptivity to others and the environment’, to 78% in ‘being in touch with oneself’.

The three areas which score lowest in general observations, showed the largest percentage increase in movement play. ‘Being in touch with oneself’ showed a 78% increase in ‘high’ and ‘very high’ wellbeing scores; ‘relaxation and inner peace’ showed a 38% increase and ‘self-confidence and self-esteem’ a 50% increase on the same basis.

9. Learning environment

Research partners and other practitioners reported that the atmosphere in the classroom / setting is calmer when children have access to a free choice movement area for at least some of the time. They also reported that a movement area does not distract children engaged in other activities in the classroom or nursery.

10. Health and safety

Fewer accidents were reported when children had expanded opportunities for child-led movement play from an early age.

Download the full report

DMP Ten Year Report
Download PDF • 24.87MB

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