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  • Writer's pictureJabadao

Wellbeing and Movement Play

How is the physical development curriculum involved in building great foundations for wellbeing? That positive state of feeling good, when we are open to anything, full of vitality and radiating energy and positivity.

Helping children to discover how to feel great in their own body is an important foundation. And, since wellbeing goes up and down depending on how life is going, ways to recognise that - and boost it when it dips - is equally as important.

Movement Play

Back in 2000 the Jabadao team started to explore a specific aspect of children’s physical engagement - we called it Movement Play. Alongside the physical games, role play and skill mastery activities they engage in, children also create free-flow, spontaneous, improvised movement explorations through which they learn about their body, themselves and the world. We felt this was so important we started to explore Movement Play Areas in the indoor learning environment, to give it the value and focus it deserves.

We were quickly struck by the high levels of wellbeing children seemed to experience there - and we wanted to know more.

Learning from the Leuven Scale

Within an extended research project we used the seven indicators of emotional wellbeing within the Leuven Scale to help us understand what was going on in more detail. They are:


Enjoyment without constraints

Openness and receptivity to others and the environment


Self-confidence and self-esteem

Relaxation and inner peace

Being in touch with oneself

What we learnt

Overall themes

  • There was a substantial increase in ‘high’ (4) and ‘extremely high’ (5) scores, when we compared general play and play in the Movement Play Area

  • The three areas of wellbeing which had the fewest high scores in general observations, showed the largest percentage increase in the Movement Play Area.These were self-confidence & self-esteem, relaxation & inner peace and being in touch with oneself.

The Movement Play Area was a place where children were going, within the learning environment, to experience and grow the highest levels of wellbeing.

Specific aspects of wellbeing


The fact that vitality showed the lowest score in general observations and the greatest increase in the Movement Play Area gave us pause for thought. Is this because we often strive to create ‘calm’ indoor environments, separating off more exuberant behaviours? ‘Go outside to let off steam’ we say. But children benefit greatly when they can move full-on inside, as well as outside. A carefully created, small Movement Play Area - with rules and support that make it safe for everyone - easily allows this. Placing a Movement Play Area within your continuous provision means that vitality and exuberance can happily co-exist with the kind of focus needed for other kinds of involvement and learning.

Enjoyment without constraints

Most children experience regular adult constraint around their movement. We do it for very good reasons, like safety and other people’s comfort. And sometimes because it seems like better play room/classroom management?

Having a place where children can move entirely as their body suggests, and adults really value and support it, is different. Then children are free to experience enjoyment without constraint - either the constraint of an adult or self-imposed constraint, because they quickly learn which kinds of movement we genuinely respect and which we don’t.

Back to the Body

Vera is lying on her back, arms above her head, kicking her legs in the air. After a while she wriggles closer to the wall and rest her feet against it, then bang, bangs the soles of her feet against its firm surface. Over and over. Vera knows that Jodie (her key worker) is watching. After a while she squirms her head round to look at her. ‘I see you’ says Jodie smiling. And Vera resumes her foot work, smiling too.

When children know they can move as they want, wallowing in that movement with no external aims or goals except the ones they set for themselves - and follow that movement wherever it might take them - they develop ways to check in with themselves, build comfort, safety and self-knowledge, and deep joy in their moving body.

These are such positive aspects of wellbeing and they are entirely led by the child.

Openness & receptivity to others and the environment / Flexibility