Research into benefits of parents encouraging physical literacy in early childhood by UWTSD Master’s student to be presented at Luxembourg Conference


Research into parents’ perspectives of pre-school physical activity behaviours undertaken by University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) Physical Education, Sport and Physical Literacy graduate Pippa Matthews will be presented at the 4th CIAPSE Congress in Luxembourg from September 7 to 9.

Pippa Matthews

Whilst studying for her Master’s, Pippa conducted high quality research that also explored the impact of introducing developmentally appropriate equipment and activities into the home.

Early childhood is a crucial time for laying the foundations of physical literacy and a healthy active life. Yet there is limited research looking in depth at parents’ perspectives on pre-school physical activity behaviours and the role of the home environment in promoting it. Pippa, who will graduate this week with a distinction, was able to bring a unique perspective to the study as a parent and scholar and a passion for the work that was informed by her own experiences with a young family.

Pippa said: “I am passionate about sport and exercise and also love being with children. I wanted to find a topic that combined these two and felt that there wasn’t enough information, knowledge or focus on early years physical development for mums particularly. I wanted to learn to not only help my own children but to also continue work in the field to stress the importance of children moving from an early age.”

Pippa’s study involved interviewing 24 parents over two phases which generated a wealth of rich qualitative data. The theoretical underpinning of her research was the Social Ecological Model giving rise to analysis of data at several levels of the child, parent, family, and home environments. Using the Social Ecological Model, the analysis highlighted the multi-faceted and complex factors influencing pre-schoolers’ physical activity behaviours, and the pivotal role that parents play in supporting physical literacy.

The findings highlight the need for parents to be better informed about the importance of high-quality physical literacy experiences for pre-schoolers, and the importance of creating strong links between home, childcare settings, and the community. Another unique feature to her work was the inclusion of fathers in the study and this highlighted the need for targeting both parents for clear messaging about health promotion strategies.

The MA Physical Education, Sport and Physical Literacy programme at UWTSD allows students to develop an in-depth understanding of how different contexts support the development of physical literacy. The degree studies how foundations are laid in early childhood that support later confidence, competence, motivation, and health behaviours and allows students to apply theory to their practice, in the home, school, community sport or health sectors across the life span. 

Developing work with parents is a key focus for the University which recently invested in the MiniMovers project. MiniMovers has combined years of physical literacy research-based expertise with creative industry experts to build resources for parents that are accessible, informative, and fun. The MiniMovers APP launching later this summer will empower parents to support their children’s physical development and address many of the issues highlighted in Pippa’s research.

Research examining the impact of the MiniMovers APP will also be presented at the CIAPSE congress, which this year will focus on – ‘Education and Physical Activity in Childhood: Current Challenges and Perspectives.’

The research was conducted by the University’s Assistive Technologies Innovation Centre (ATiC) and The Wales Academy for Health and Physical Literacy in collaboration with Professor Jackie Goodway who is an international expert in motor development. The study found that the developmentally focussed MiniMovers activities supported children’s physical development, confidence and independence, and families found them fun and engaging.

These findings about the impact of the parent focussed MiniMovers APP are promising particularly in light of Pippa’s research which highlighted the need for more information and support for parents.

Dr Nalda Wainwright, programme lead for the MA is Director of the Wales Academy for Health and Physical literacy at UWTSD said: “We are delighted that Pippa’s study contributes to an area that needs more research. Whilst we hear a lot about the importance of play in the early years there should be more focus on high quality developmentally appropriate physical activities that support some of the crucial skills underpinning physical activity in later life.

"This is an area of work that is gaining more recognition however her study clearly highlights parents are not accessing information and resources to support their children’s development.

"It is always a challenge to study at post graduate level, especially when having to fit in with family life. Pippa has been committed and focussed throughout her study, which is reflected in her excellent result. We are looking forward to the opportunity of working with Pippa in the future bringing the parents’ perspective to the MiniMovers work so we can help all families to support their children’s physical development and lay the foundations for health.”

Pippa said working from home with young children and committing to a full-time master’s degree had been challenging and credited the University for its support.

She added: “Getting back into studying took some getting used to but I felt really well supported by the team at UWTSD. The nature of the course being divided into specific modules also meant that it was easier to compartmentalise what was required each term.   

“The modules were all really varied and interesting allowing enough flexibility to channel the course to your passions – for me it was early years’ physical development.

“I have enjoyed the balance of work and motherhood and getting back into reading, writing, and learning again.”

Note to Editor

Dr Nalda Wainwright and the academy has gained national and international recognition for its work in supporting physical literacy. In particular the professional development programmes which train early years teachers and practitioners to deliver SKIP Cymru (Successful Kinaesthetic Instruction for Pre-schoolers in Wales) has received programme recommendation by the Welsh Government and highlighted in the WBFG materials – Journey to a Healthier Wales.

The SKIP Cymru work was developed drawing on over 30 years of evidence form the work of Professor Jackie Goodway, an honorary Research Fellow at the Wales Academy for Health and Physical Literacy and was recently recognised for its excellence as a case study in the REF2021 submission. 

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