Physical development

Core strength and co-ordination

Learn more about core strength and co-ordination as part of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) including advice from experts and suggested activities.

Why core strength and co-ordination is important

Core strength is children’s ability to keep their position and move from the centre of their body outwards. If core strength is underdeveloped, children will struggle with gross motor skills and fine motor skills, stability and balance. This will affect their ability to coordinate more refined movements.

Coordination is the brain’s ability to control movement of different body parts at the same time. When babies are born, their most developed body part is their head, and the least developed is their feet. It takes 2 months before an infant recognises their hands as their own.

To be confident with movement children must develop both core strength and coordination.

Developing core strength and co-ordination supports children’s ability to communicate, learn language and eventually read and write. Whole body movements contribute to the accurate use of small tools and delicate materials. Writing, drawing and painting should be considered as whole-body skills.

Video

In this video, an early years expert explains the importance of core strength and co-ordination in the early years foundation stage framework. There are also some tips on how to support children in this area.

What the EYFS framework says

By creating games and providing opportunities for play both indoors and outdoors, adults can support children to develop their core strength, stability, balance, spatial awareness, co-ordination and agility.

Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage, page 9.

What this means in practice

Children must have plenty of opportunities to play indoors and outdoors. They need to be active and use their whole bodies in as many different, challenging ways as possible. Over time children have more control over their bodies, and what they can do. Less happens by chance, and movements become more deliberate, being achieved with confidence.

Children are naturally curious and love to play physically, exploring possible movement opportunities. Movement play, encouraged through challenging spaces and open-ended resources, allows children to start their own games.

Observe how the core strength of babies and children is developed. You can then decide if what you provide, indoors and outdoors, is meeting their physical development needs.

When observing babies and young children at play, notice their ‘postural reflexes’ that support their ability to sit up, stand still, maintain balance and move in a coordinated way.

Observe their confidence using tools like a gardening trowel, and wheeled toys such as a wheelbarrow, tricycle or balance bike.

Plan what you provide, so babies and young children can roll, crawl, walk, run, jump, balance, throw, catch, and ride wheeled toys. Well-planned play spaces let children move freely, developing their body strength.

This core strength helps develop senses, spatial awareness, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, visual development and limb co-ordination.

Suggested activities

Gardening

You’ll need:

  • an outdoor area
  • child-sized gardening gloves
  • tools
  • containers and plant pots, including found resources
  • seeds
  • plants
  • soil, for container gardening and bulb planting

For some settings this may mean gardening on a smaller scale in containers and pots. Support children to weed the garden area. Children love to collect weeds in buckets and wheelbarrows, transporting them to the composting area.

Children dig over the garden area with your help to prepare for sowing seeds and planting plants.

Sow vegetable and flower seeds. Problem-solve with children about how to protect outdoor areas. Make homemade labels, showing where seeds have been sown. Strike a balance between plants that grow quickly, like lettuce and cress, and those that take a little longer.

Put out various containers for sowing seeds, like egg cartons and plastic trays. Children can use found materials and think about what works best, and why.

You could also buy plants to plant. Children enjoy the process of digging holes, placing the plants in and then pressing the soil down to make sure they’re in position. Movements like this further develop core strength and coordination.

Gardening supports and extends children’s physical development, muscular strength, fine motor skills and coordination. Bending over to pull up weeds, lifting a stone or picking up a soil bucket all support developing core strength. Joints are strengthened and made more flexible.

Check that any plants you use are appropriate, some can be poisonous, or have sharp thorns.

If you’re inexperienced in gardening here’s the Royal Horticultural Society’s beginners guide.

Cbeebies also have guidance on gardening with young children.

How this activity links to the other areas of learning

Children help to make labels, learning that literacy skills have real purpose. Gardening relates to children’s understanding of the world. There are good opportunities to enrich and widen children’s widening vocabulary, learning the correct names of plants and gardening tools, while describing, informing, predicting and reasoning. Gardening allows you to talk about the ecological part of understanding the world with growing food, re-using containers and water conservation by collecting rainwater in a water butt.

Adventurous climbing and swinging

Adventurous climbing outside develops children’s core strength and coordination. The best resource for adventurous climbing is an accessible tree. You can also attach a swing. Swings help develop children’s core strength because of the muscles they use to sit securely and move with their legs.

If there are no trees in your setting or childminder home, look for other local opportunities.

Tree stumps are equally challenging, especially when arranged together. They can be donated or bought.

Follow health and safety guidance and complete the appropriate risk assessments. You could consider buying helmets for safe play.

Support every child to explore trees, tree stumps and fallen branches at their level of confidence. Words of encouragement work better than being physically supportive unless the child has a specific physical need. Encourage children to think about their safety and how to climb or adjust their bodies to balance so they know when something feels unsafe.

Praise every child’s efforts. Even holding onto the trunk is an achievement, especially for very young children.

Daily experiences are the best for every child to develop their core strength and coordination over time.

Provide ‘woodland’ climbing daily, including low level climbing for children who find physical movement a challenge. Babies need the opportunity to have tummy time outside on different natural surfaces.

How this activity links to the other areas of learning

Keep the atmosphere calm when children are engaged in adventurous play as they gain confidence in their physical capabilities (personal, social and emotional development). Children have to maintain attention as they negotiate spaces and other children (communication and language). Being in the natural environment nourishes children’s understanding of the world.

Other activities

Early movers has lots of physical development activity ideas.

NHS physical activity guidelines for children under 5.

What other nurseries and childminders are doing

“We want to make the outdoor learning environment more challenging for the children. We tied two lengths of climbing rope between two trees, to create walkways. These have improved children’s muscular strength, coordination, balance and agility. As soon as the babies are walking, they are helping in the garden, watering and sweeping are their favourite tasks.”

Mandy, Naturally Learning, Truro.

“I have different sized chairs to meet the needs of the growing child, starting with high chairs. This means children sit with the correct posture. This supports them when eating their meals or when they want to draw and play games.”

Julie, childminder, Ilkley.

Summary

  • Core strength is children’s ability to maintain their position and move from the centre of their body outwards.
  • Co-ordination is the brain’s ability to control different body part movements at the same time.
  • Children’s early years are important to sensory and physical development.
  • Children’s core strength and co-ordination are essential to developing their ability to move in different ways, control their movements as well as fine motor control.
  • Developing children’s core strength and coordination means they can be more agile, flexible, well-coordinated, balanced and motivated to take part in physical activity.

Next steps

  • Notice the physical development achievements of the children you work with. Compare what you find out with colleagues, or another provider. Consider if your curriculum enables all children to improve their core strength.
  • Review what you want children to learn, making sure there are opportunities for children to develop their core strength and coordination.
  • Share with others your best practice for supporting children’s core strength and co-ordination.
  • Review your curriculum to ensure you cover the requirements in the EYFS for this area of learning.