RESEARCH: The Benefits of Physical Literacy for Children and Educators
Implementing the APPLE Model
The APPLE Model – Active Play and Physical Literacy Everyday
Dawne Clark, PhD
Early childhood educators are not PE teachers; most don’t have the knowledge or the background to “teach” physical skills. But young children learn through play, especially active play, and that is something educators understand well. Their role is to create many opportunities for children to explore fundamental movement skills in stimulating environments indoors and out.
The term physical activity refers to movement that raises the heart rate, increases breathing, and causes a sweat. Physical literacy, a more comprehensive term, has been defined as the motivation, confidence, and competence to move for a lifetime. Physically literate children want to move, acquire confidence as they challenge themselves, and build competence as they learn the skills to control their bodies. With many opportunities, the cycle continues and children carry their growing physical literacy throughout their lifetimes resulting in healthy bodies and minds.
The APPLE Model was developed as a framework to help educators understand how to incorporate physical literacy into their playrooms and playgrounds. Rather than thinking of physical literacy as something that only happens during “activity time”, educators see ways to encourage children to move throughout the day indoors and out. The “core” of the APPLE is the definition of physical literacy – the motivation, confidence, and competence to move for a lifetime. The “skin” of the APPLE reflects four aspects of active play important for all children:
Environment: Educators create stimulating environments that excite children’s curiosity and provide opportunities for them to explore new and thrilling movements and equipment. This exposure enables children to develop new skills. When children find that something doesn’t work, they work out better ways to move and conquer a task enhancing resilience and problem-solving skills.
Play: Young children learn through play that is joyful and that they direct. Children love to explore what intrigues them and practice over and over until they achieve a sense of mastery. Watching young children playing with something they have chosen or discovered is watching time disappear. Children need at least 45 minutes to plan and organize their play so extended play times are provided each day.
Engagement: Thoughtful educators know how to engage with children to facilitate or extend the play. They know that their active participation when children request it and modelling to show how exciting a new adventure can be will encourage and support children. When children begin to challenge themselves by trying to climb higher or using tools, the role of the educator becomes that of an engaged supervisor. Educators may guide children to use tools safely or learn how to move their hands and feet to climb. Educators don’t interrupt the play or caution children to “be careful”. Instead, they let children know that they are close by if needed but also ensure the children can do it – by themselves.
Relationships: Active play builds relationships in many ways - among children, between children and educators, and between educators and parents. Educators understand how to provide opportunities that encourage child-led play and challenge all children to reach above themselves. Children learn to work together, negotiate, settle disputes, and problem solve when they develop positive relationships with others. When educators, supervisors, and parents work together to understand the value and benefits of active play, children and the adults in their lives benefit in multiple ways.
Physical literacy is as important to healthy child development as other literacies such as reading, writing, and numeracy. The benefits of being physical literate are many – cognitive, social, emotional, as well as physical. When the APPLE Model is incorporated into programs for young children, physical literacy is visible in all parts of the environment and in all that children do. Children are eager to move in many ways and love to practice until they have a mastered a new skill. Then they are ready to challenge themselves with something new. They are creative, curious, and capable of developing complex play involving others. They plan and make decisions. They focus and ignore distractions so the play won’t be interrupted. They regulate their emotions so that everyone can participate which reduces stress and anxiety. As a result, children feel confident and competent in their own abilities and ready to tackle the larger world.
Active for Life has partnered with The Early Years Physical Literacy Research Team to study the impact of physical literacy programming on infants and young children. One of the tools early childhood educators (ECEs) use in the study is The APPLE Model (Active Play and Physical Literacy Every Day), along with a program called APPLE Seeds, a 12-week program of activities designed to help young children develop fundamental movement skills. Here’s one ECE’s story about how the APPLE Model and the APPLE Seeds program has helped her centre incorporate more active play throughout children’s days.
The concept of Physical Literacy was difficult to understand at first, but once the APPLE Model was introduced it made sense and justified how I have wanted to guide the children in my care. The Model has given me the freedom to let the children learn through their play about who they are, what they want and need. It gives me the opportunity to provide a variety of self-directed activities and an enriched environment both indoor and outdoor that allows the children to develop their skills and abilities.
To help parents and other staff better understand physical literacy, I designed a bulletin board to simplify the concepts and show them what was involved. The APPLE Model allowed me to break down how Physical Literacy was to be implemented and why. Looking at one piece of the “APPLE” at a time allowed for staff and parents to have a greater understanding and acceptance.
I produced a giant apple out of bristol board and stapled it to the parent board. Around the outside of the apple, I posted the layers of the apple in four sections (environment, play, engagement, and relationships). I then added pictures of the children participating in some of the activities from the APPLE Seeds program. Every couple of weeks I would add new pictures and more explanations (point form) of the skills and abilities the children were working on and achieving.
Using the three fundamental skills, stability, locomotor, and manipulative descriptions provided in the APPLE Seeds, gave a basic understanding for parents and staff on the movements, skills, and abilities that I had shown or described. It also helped to show the parents that the activities could be both structured and unstructured, that they could create an activity or game with equipment or as simple as climbing a structure or snow hill.
The inner core of the APPLE model is the motivation, confidence, and competency to move.
The most important piece of the APPLE Model for me was the confidence to move. In the many years of being in this field, that is the one element that I have tried to encourage the most.
I have seen many children who have been afraid, unsure, hesitant or will not try any new experiences. Even in the child care field there have been a lot of rules, licensing requirements, and staff who are unsure or concerned about various safety issues — a lot of “stop,” “don’t,” “get down,” or “it’s not safe.”
The APPLE Model and APPLE Seeds program has encouraged my staff and me to be more open to the children trying different things that have not been allowed before or that we were scared of. This has also meant that the children are more free, excited and explore things at an earlier age, which increases their self-confidence to move even more.
Since being involved in this program I have seen a great change in the children, staff, and room. I have children who are only one year old who are climbing, moving, and participating in activities that the two- and three-year-old children are doing. The experiences we have shared have only made the environment, relationships and engagement so much more rewarding.
Another exciting aspect of the APPLE program is the flexibility for the children to discover new ways to utilize materials, activities, and spaces. The educators provide the materials, structure, and methods of the activities but then let the children experience them in their own way. This has allowed for creativity, imagination, and less involvement from educators who may feel they need to guide or direct the children’s play. It has allowed my staff and me to open our minds, expand, and learn from the children.