Sit less, move more, sleep well

Issue: Volume 96, Number 12

Posted: 10 July 2017
Reference #: 1H9dVg

Sport New Zealand and the Ministry of Health have jointly released a new set of health guidelines for young children.

The new active play guidelines for under-fives recently released by the Ministry of Health, and Sport New Zealand include recommendations for sleep, as well as the importance of plenty of active play and breaking up long periods of sitting.

Consistent with Te Whāriki, the guidelines recommend that children under five years spend as little time as possible on screens, more time playing both inside and outside and get plenty of good quality sleep. 

This release follows the release of the physical activity guidelines for children and young people, which were featured recently in the Education Gazette.

Why is sitting less important?

  • The research suggests that prolonged screen use (even educational TV) can be detrimental to a child’s physical health, emotional health and communication skills. It can also affect the quality and quantity of their sleep.
  • Longer time spent watching TV during a child’s younger years is associated with decreased maths and physical abilities, lower classroom attentiveness and increased emotional problems later in childhood.
  • However, regular reading and story time are positive for brain development and communication skills.

Why is play important?

  • Short- and long-term health outcomes for under-fives improve as the time spent playing actively increases.
  • Active play is an important way for a child to grow physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually, all of which are vital for their future health and wellbeing.
  • Regular active play helps to develop a child’s physical systems, such as muscle and bone growth, coordination, balance and basic movement competence skills.
  • Children who spend more time playing outside are more likely to be physically active than those who play mainly indoors.

Why is good quality sleep important?

  • Children who consistently sleep less than the recommended amount each day have lower physical, emotional and social functioning outcomes.
  • Poor sleep habits in early life are consistently associated with poorer health outcomes in later childhood.
  • Children who did not watch TV before bed went to sleep earlier and slept for longer than those who did watch TV before bed.
  • What can ECE centres and kōhanga reo do to support sufficient sleep and regular play?
  • Encourage children to play in a range of different indoor and outdoor environments, such as grass, mud, sand, water, snow, gravel, carpet, stones and concrete. These should be a mixture of freely chosen and adult-led activities.
  • Ensure children break up sitting time and, through flexible learning environments, provide opportunities for them to stand and move around while learning.
  • Staff can provide Sit Less, Move More, Sleep Well messages to parents through information evenings and newsletters.
  • Build the importance of the Sit Less, Move More, Sleep Well messages into children’s learning (for example by explaining why it is important to play outside regularly).
  • Encourage staff to be active and act as role models for children.

Key points

Sit less

  • Provide regular activity breaks for children to reduce sitting time
  • Discourage screen time for under-twos and limit screen time to less than one hour every day for 2-4 year olds.
  • Take regular breaks from equipment that restricts free movement (such as high chairs, pushchairs, slings and activity gyms). Mobile baby walkers are not recommended due to the potential for injury.

Move more

  • Children under five years need plenty of opportunities for active play by themselves and with others to:
  • develop their confidence and movement competence skills
  • build resilience and encourage creativity
  • develop their communication and social skills.
  • Toddlers and pre-schoolers need at least three hours of fun active play spread throughout each day.
  • At least one hour of this should be energetic play, such as running, riding a bike, bouncing on a trampoline.

Sleep well

  • Babies (birth to three months) should have
  • 14 to 17 hours of good-quality sleep every day, including daytime sleeps centred round their physical and emotional needs.
  • Infants (four to twelve months) should have 12 to 15 hours good-quality sleep every day, including daytime sleeps, which will tend to decrease as they get closer to one year of age.
  • Toddlers (one to two years inclusive) should have 11 to 14 hours of good-quality sleep every day, including at least one daytime sleep.
  • Preschoolers (three to four years inclusive) should have 10 to 13 hours of good-quality sleep every day, with consistent bedtimes and wake-up times.

More information is available from the Ministry of Health - Active PLay Guidelines for Under Fives(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 6:00 am, 10 July 2017

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