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Early Years Exercise – & Why it's Essential

The Benefits of Exercise

The benefits of regular exercise to children and why it's so essential, particularly for children under five

In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of regular exercise to children and why it’s so essential, particularly for children under five. Exercise is shown to have a huge range of benefits to humans, and this is especially true for children, as we’ll see.

Students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory), and classroom behaviours.2

Some additional benefits of exercise — including a few that may surprise you — are:

  • Exercise is shown to have a huge range of benefits to humans, and this is especially true for childrenLess likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease including hyperlipidemia1;
  • Less likelihood of strokes1;
  • Less likelihood of developing high blood pressure1;
  • Less likelihood of developing cancer (including breast, colon, endometrial and lung cancer)1;
  • Less likelihood of developing glucose intolerance and insulin resistance1;
  • Less likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes1;
  • Less likelihood of developing low bone density and subsequent osteoporosis1;
  • Less likelihood of becoming obese1;
  • An improvement to the symptoms of depression and anxiety;
  • Stronger muscles and bones;
  • Improved physical fitness;
  • Maintenance of a healthier weight;
  • The creation of nerve connections in the developing brain, which aids learning;
  • Improved social skills and peer relationships through communal exercise and sport activities;
  • Healthier levels of self-confidence;
  • Improved coordination and motor skills;
  • A better quality of sleep.

Last but not least, exercise and physical activity can be great fun! Indeed, that is the key to encouraging children to exercise. Exercise doesn’t have to be a dull, repetitive chore. In contrast, it can and should be thoroughly good fun and great entertainment if approached in the right way. For example, as part of a game, sport activity or physical ‘challenge’.

Active play is a fun way of having exerciseHigher physical activity and physical fitness levels are associated with improved cognitive performance (e.g., concentration, memory) among students.3

With the NHS reporting that one in every five UK children are overweight or — worse — obese before they even start school, exercise is a critically important issue. If we can get children into good exercise and healthy eating habits in their early years, they’re statistically more likely to maintain healthy weights and to generally be more healthy as they grow towards adulthood.

Exercise Recommendations for Toddlers & Preschoolers

Downloadable Infographic: Exercise recommendations for babies, toddlers & preschoolersUK chief medical officers and the NHS each recommend4 a minimum of 3 hours (180 minutes) of physical activity every day for toddlers (1 to 2) and preschoolers (aged 3 to 4). The three hours should be spread over the course of the day and the NHS suggest a mixture of both light activity and more energetic physical activity, both indoors and outdoors (weather conditions permitting). A useful infographic4 can be downloaded via the thumbnail image shown.

Toddler exercise can include light activities such as standing up and generally moving around, rolling around and playing. Skipping, hopping, jumping and running activities would be suitable as the more energetic types of exercise from time to time each day. Active play can include climbing, cycling, ball games and playing in water. Supervised closely, of course.

Preschoolers aged 3 to just under 5 can do any of the above but it can be a little more vigorous, at times, as they’re a little more sure-footed and coordinated by that age.

Exercise for Babies

Parents, childcare professionals and carers should encourage babies to be active at periods throughout the day. Crawling is good (supervised and safe, of course). If they haven’t yet mastered crawling, they can move about on the floor as best they can (again under close supervision), moving limbs around, pushing, pulling, reaching, grasping and so on. The UK Chief Medical Offices’ guidelines suggest at least 30 minutes spread across the day.

There is now a large body of evidence that the amount of physical activity in the Under-5 period influences a wide range of both short-term and long-term health and developmental outcomes.4

Exercise & Physical Activity at Treetops Nursery, Willesden

Treetops Nursery is in Willesden, near Harlesden and Kensal Green in London's NW10Knowing how important it is, we take exercise very seriously at Treetops Nursery in Willesden. However, we ensure that it’s always fun and exciting, so that children enjoy it, naturally. Physical movement and active play are all part of the nursery’s EYFS curriculum, in fact. As well as carefully planned physical activities, active play, games and challenges tailored to the needs and abilities of each individual child, the nursery has a huge range of toys, games, equipment and interactive facilities. Together, these naturally encourage physical movement and exercise. The programme is pre-planned by staff and a ‘Key Person’ allocated to each child. In this way, every child accomplishes an optimal early years education and well-rounded developmental opportunities,  achieving personal bests along the way in readiness for the time when they’ll move on to school.

Are you Looking for Nursery Places in Willesden, Harlesden, Kensal Green or NW10?

At time of writing we have a few places available at Treetops Nursery in Willesden, near Harlesden and Kensal Green in London’s NW10. Do get in touch while they’re still available if you are looking for the highest quality childcare for babies, toddlers and under-five children in those areas. We’ll be happy to discuss nursery places with you …


References:
1. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Washington, DC: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2018.
2. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance. Atlanta, GA; Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.
3. Michael SL, Merlo C, Basch C, et al. Critical connections: health and academics. Journal of School Health. 2015;85(11):740–758.
4. UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines, September 2019.

Microgreens: fun, nutritious, food growing for little ones

There are now microgreen farmsThere is one class of edible plant that can be grown all year round and is perfect for kids to grow indoors, for example on a windowsill. Some types of this food will sprout in as little as a week. What’s more, it’s tasty and highly nutritious. Growing it is super-easy and a perfect way to keep kids entertained, educated about nature and eating healthily. It’ll also be a welcome addition to mealtimes for the whole household.

Growing Microgreens

We’re talking about Microgreens (also referred to as micro leaves). These are the early, edible, sprouting leaves of very young herbs, leafy greens and some root vegetables that might usually be thought of in a larger, more mature form. The tender new leaves are cut just days after they first sprout and can be made into wonderful salads, garnishes or meal accompaniments. They also bring some very tasty flavours to mealtimes. The young micro leaves are full of vitamins and minerals, look fantastic on the plate and will grow back time and time again after snipping. The secret is simply to harvest the immature micro leaves and to stop them from growing to full size. Just harvest … re-harvest … and re-harvest.

“Micro leaves are usually eaten fresh and raw, and the fresher the leaves are, the more vitamins and minerals they contain. Each little leaf is a gold mine of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals such as iron, folic acid and potassium.” (Gardeners World)

Various microgreen leaves sproutingHere are just a few examples of plants that make suitable microgreens and can easily be grown by children indoors:

  • Basil — their tasty baby leaves are full of flavour and can be harvested just ten days after seed planting. They’re wonderful on salads, pizzas and can even be made into pesto sauce.
  • Coriander — their tiny, delicate leaves pack a unique and punchy flavour that’s perfect with salads, stir-fries, chopped onions and curries. They can be harvested a couple of weeks after sowing the seeds.
  • Rocket — ready to harvest just a week after first sowing, rocket microgreens are another flavoursome and slightly peppery leaf to add to salads and put onto pizzas. Very tasty!
  • Mustard leaves — these may not be to every child’s taste, but many adults will enjoy the slight heat they’ll bring to salads, stir fries and Eastern dishes. Ready to first harvest in 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Salad with microgreensFennel — just 10 days after first sprouting, leaves from young fennel seedlings will give a pleasant aniseed tang to dishes like pasta salads, risottos, soups and even stuffing.
  • Beetroot leaves — the sprouting microgreen leaves from the beetroot take just ten days to appear after sowing. With their rich green leaves and red stems, they look wonderful in salads and lend their mild, earthy flavour to garnishes for some fish dishes.
  • Radish leaves — in just a week, the young, fiery leaves from the radish seedlings will be ready to snip and add to salads, stir fries and sandwiches. For some, their microgreen leaves are even tastier than the traditional root.
  • Spinach — tender leaves from young spinach plants can be harvested in ten days or so. They’re really good for you too. With their mild flavour, they’re a perfect addition to leafy salads, risottos, pastas and noodles.
  • Broccoli leaves — these will be ready to first harvest in just a week and have quite a different flavour than their fully-grown counterpart. With their slightly spicy taste, they’re also great in salads, risottos and omelettes.
  • Red cabbage microgreens are packed with nutrientsRed Cabbage micro leaves have one of the highest Vitamin C concentrations of any microgreen. They also contain Vitamin K, potassium, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium and antioxidants. As with many of the microgreens, many top chefs use them as an attractive and tasty garnish. They can be sprinkled over soups, salads, grilled vegetables, stews and cooked meats. After sowing, they take only days to appear.

How children can grow microgreens at home

Your children will need very little to get started. You’ll need to buy them some packet seeds, which you can get at your local garden nursery or online. If you’re unsure who to order from online, Suttons are probably the best-known supplier and seed packets there seem to start from as little as just a pound or two. You can also find mixed seed packets. (If you’re on a really tight budget, you can alternatively take a look at the excellent post about growing food virtually free of cost, by our sister nursery in Streatham).

Along with the seeds, your child will need some multi-purpose or seed and cuttings compost (peat-free is more eco-friendly) and something to sow the seeds in. If you’re going to grow the microgreens on the windowsill, you could use flower pots, slim seed trays (perhaps left over from plants or herbs you have previously bought), containers, yoghurt pots with drainage holes pierced underneath, egg cartons, or even the cardboard cores from used kitchen rolls, cut down to a suitable size. Any of these will need something to sit in, to catch any draining water, for example a saucer or seed ‘drip tray’.

Lemonbalm micro leaves sprouting in compostYour child will need to fill the chosen containers with compost, not quite to the top. Tap it to level the soil, then pat it down just a little to firm it. Some gardeners also indent the compost where the seeds will go. The seeds then need to be carefully placed or lightly sprinkled into the indented areas. It’s important that your child spaces the seeds out so there is no clumping, otherwise significant problems can occur (the crop might get diseased or even completely fail). The seeds don’t need to be covered but a light dusting of sieved compost will keep them in place while allowing light to get through. The seeds then need to be lightly watered. It’s best for your child to do this part outside, just to avoid potential mess indoors, taking care not to over-water nor to wash the seeds away. A way to water them indoors is to simply stand the vessels in some shallow water for 30 to 60 minutes, so the compost naturally draws up the moisture.

The rest is also very easy. Your child simply needs to place the potted seeds on a light windowsill and ensure that the compost is always kept damp, taking care not to over-water. Also consider a label for each pot for identification purposes, particularly if several different seed types have been planted. Some people cover the seed pots or trays with a single sheet of kitchen towel, newspaper or even cling film to keep the moisture in while the seeds initially germinate. Your child will need to check under the covering every day. The moment little shoots can be seen, the covering will need to be removed, so long as the soil is kept moist thereafter, so it never dries out. Ensure the potted plants get full light and ventilation too. Within a week or two depending on the seeds chosen, the young shoots will grow baby leaves and can then be harvested. Snip them near their bases before mature leaves start to replace the baby leaves. If you want to benefit from them for longer, snip them like this rather than pulling up their roots, so they can sprout and re-sprout time and time again.

Eat & enjoy!

A sandwich with microgreens as a garnishOnce rinsed, the tender young micro leaves can be enjoyed in meals by the whole family. They’ll add often exquisite tastes and textures to meals as well as adding much-needed vitamins and minerals to the family diet. That’s even more important for growing toddlers and preschoolers, of course. And, throughout the growing journey, the children will absolutely love seeing the new shoots grow into young plants. They will have learnt new skills, had great fun getting to know more about nature and have a real sense of achievement. Chances are, too, that they will love the taste of the micro leaves.

Treetops Nursery in Willesden

We hope you and your family enjoyed this article and will have fun growing your very own microgreens. The post was brought to you by Treetops Day Nursery in Willesden, London NW10. We are a childcare nursery and pre-school, suitable for babies from 6 months and children up to 5 years of age. We’re also convenient for parents and carers who are looking for high quality weekday childcare near Willesden Green, Harlesden, Brent, Kensal Green, Brondesbury Park, Kilburn, Mapesbury, Dollis Hill, Church End, Roundwood, College Park and Park Royal. Please do get in touch if you’d like to learn more about a possible nursery place for your child.

For further details, contact Treetops Nursery: