Ability to be active: exploring children’s active play in primary schools

This paper presents findings from an innovative multi-method study which sought to examine the impact of toys and toy substitutes on children’s physical activity levels in two UK primary schools. Accelerometers were used to record the physical activity levels of 52 Year 3 pupils (aged 7-8 years) during four separate 30-minute play sessions and, for comparison, during other periods of the school day (breaks, lunch-times and PE lessons). Qualitative data were generated through observations, field notes and semi-structured focus groups with pupils. The findings suggest that a relatively short session of unstructured active play with toys or toy substitutes can make an important contribution to a child’s daily level of physical activity. Moreover, they reveal that children’s enjoyment of play sessions and their creative, physical and social competence are also important influences on their engagement in, and with active, play. Some implications for policy, practice and future research are discussed.