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Early Childhood Program Standards and Learning Objectives

This is an excerpt from Adapted Physical Education and Sport 6th Edition eBook With Web Resource by Joseph Winnick & David L. Porretta.

The development of early childhood physical education programs should be aligned with best practices in early childhood education and early childhood special education. Young children experiencing delays in their motor development should receive opportunities and instruction designed to parallel what their same-age peers receive but modified to address individual challenges. Early childhood movement programs should provide children with the opportunity to explore and act on objects in their physical environment (Odom & Wolery, 2003). A well-designed movement curriculum for preschool through third grade should focus on fundamental movement abilities in the preschool years, specialized movement abilities in the early elementary years, and opportunities for all children to be physically active.

The preschool years give instructors the opportunity to guide children through games and activities in order to build a skill foundation and maintain appropriate activity levels. This fundamental movement phase should focus on stability, locomotor, and object-control skills (see chapter 19 for a review of the fundamental movement phase). It follows, then, that the early elementary years (kindergarten through third grade) allow the teacher to integrate the knowledge and skills that children have acquired and begin to refine fundamental skills required for more advanced games and activities. The specialized movement phase gives children the opportunity to use several fundamental skills to complete a single activity that is more specialized (see chapter 19 for a review of the specialized movement phase).

The importance of seeing the connection between the fundamental movement phase and specialized movement phase in the early childhood years is critical for physical education curriculum development. As a guide, national standards for physical education (SHAPE America, 2014) have been written for elementary children in the United States. These five physical education standards are in place for five- to nine-year-old children and are written to reflect what children should be able to do after participation in a quality physical education program. PE Metrics (National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], 2008) is a valid and reliable tool developed to assess the first national physical education standard, which reads "The physically literate individual demonstrates competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns" (SHAPE America, 2014, p. 12). A quality physical education program for elementary-aged children should follow national standards and build on the fundamental movement skill programs introduced in preschool.

However, early learning standards vary state by state for preschool-aged children. To assist early childhood educators, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has organized a standards database on what states have identified as educational priorities for children of prekindergarten age (NIEER, 2014). Using learning standards to guide programming for children with and without disabilities through the early childhood years can be beneficial in all domains of learning, including physical health and development. Early childhood physical educators should be knowledgeable about learning standards and assessing them and how they contribute to program development. Mastering fundamental movements and skills and integrating them into games and activities are processes.

Regarding physical activity for young children, it has been recommended that preschool-aged children accumulate at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity and at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity per day, and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes except when sleeping (NASPE, 2002). The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 2009) also recommends that playing time (including large motor activities) can benefit young children in physical competence, social skills, self-control, and problem-solving abilities as well as giving them an opportunity to practice emerging skills.

Activity environments designed to provide instruction for young children with developmental delays and those with disabilities should be individualized according to assessment information. Arbitrarily selecting games and activities because they seem fun and the children appear to enjoy them is not necessarily in line with good practice. Specifically, learning environments should parallel the strengths and challenges identified during the assessment process and written in the IEP as instructional objectives. Instruction is based on a good understanding of each child's present level of performance. An activity setting should be carefully planned to build on what children already know and promote the acquisition of new skills.

Developmental theorists support instruction that encourages children to explore and manipulate their environment in order to construct meaning (Lefrancois, 2006). Individualizing instruction for each child in the class is the challenge faced by teachers providing early childhood adapted physical education in an integrated setting. Using a differentiated instructional approach helps teachers address the diverse learning needs of several children in the same class (Sands & Barker, 2004). The child's developmental abilities (physical, social, and cognitive) and the effect that a certain disability might have on this development must be considered.

Developmental Differences Between Preschoolers and Primary-Aged Children

The cognitive and social developmental status of a four-year-old differs from that of a six-year-old. As children develop cognitively and socially, they incorporate their movement strategies in new ways. Teachers providing adapted physical education must understand age-related developmental differences in order to construct appropriate learning environments for children who exhibit delays in one or more areas of learning (Haywood & Getchell, 2014).

Developmentally appropriate movement environments designed for preschool-aged children (three to five years of age) differ from those planned for kindergarten and elementary school children (six to eight years of age). A watered-down kindergarten curriculum presented to children in preschool is not appropriate. Games, activities, and equipment meaningful to a four-year-old might be of little interest to a seven-year-old and vice versa. For example, preschoolers love to experiment with speed, direction change, and space. Figure 22.1 shows a young boy making his way through a tunnel placed within a larger activity area. With a little creativity and imagination, teachers of early childhood physical education can create stimulating and motivating learning environments. A refrigerator box that has holes cut for climbing and hiding might entice a preschooler to explore and move for a long time. Preschoolers are intrigued by new spaces and the opportunity to explore these seemingly simple environments. On the other hand, a seven-year-old might find these activities simplistic and boring. She would be much more interested and challenged by moving under and through a parachute lifted by classmates. A child in first or second grade (six or seven years old) might be challenged by activities that encourage a higher level of problem solving. Children at this age have greater ability to reason and logically integrate thoughts than younger children do. For a three- or four-year-old, a parachute activity that includes anything more than moving the parachute up and down is often frightening and unpredictable.

Figure 22.1 A young boy makes his way through a tunnel, a familiar play space for preschoolers.
A young boy makes his way through a tunnel, a familiar play space for preschoolers.
© Lauriece Zittel

The NAEYC (2009) provides guidelines for developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood and discusses the differences between preschool and primary-aged children in their physical, social, cognitive, and language development. Teachers providing adapted physical education should keep in mind that the cognitive and social development of young children cannot be ignored when developing goals and objectives in the psychomotor domain. The interplay between each of these functional areas of learning and an individual child's development within each area must be considered when planning movement environments and instruction.

Developmental Considerations for Young Children With Disabilities

The effect of a disability on the communication, social, cognitive, or motor development of a child must be recognized before planning instruction. Knowing how a child's disability affects motor learning and performance is essential for the development of an appropriate physical education program. Young children with orthopedic impairments, for example, might begin independently exploring their physical environments by using a walker, wheelchair, or crutches but might also require accommodations in order to benefit from age-appropriate activities. Instructors should be aware of physical barriers that exist in the activity setting and design the environment in a way that encourages interactions with peers and equipment. Assistive devices that allow children with orthopedic impairments to initiate tasks that are both physically and intellectually challenging should be available to promote independence.

Young children with delays in social interaction - for example, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) - may require modifications in the introduction and delivery of games and activities. Small- or large-group activities may be difficult for children with ASD, and practicing motor skills might need to occur in social environments that offer options for solitary and parallel play. For young children with ASD, interaction with others might not be the best instructional approach or least restrictive environment for learning new skills. On the other hand, children with intellectual disabilities often benefit from age-appropriate peer interactions that are consistent and repetitive. As shown in figure 22.2, a predictable environment with familiar equipment and routines will enhance opportunities for learning. Physical educators need to be aware of the characteristics of young children with disabilities and plan activities and environments accordingly.

Figure 22.2 Familiar environments promote learning among children with disabilities.
Familiar environments promote learning among children with disabilities.
Photo courtesy of NIU. Photographer: Molly Coleman.

Facilitating Communication in a Movement Lesson

Interacting with others requires some level of communication. Some young children with disabilities use speech and language to communicate, whereas others who are nonverbal might use alternative methods and strategies. Although speech or language impairment is considered the most prevalent disability category among preschoolers, children with many diagnoses might have communication needs (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). The movement setting, typically a motivating setting for young children, can be an ideal environment to enhance communication skills. Collaboration with classroom teachers and speech therapists assists the early childhood physical educator in determining what communication goals and objectives can be integrated within the physical education setting.

Young children with disabilities or developmental delays who are verbal might use speech and language to communicate with peers and teachers. The movement setting is a natural place to incorporate concepts such as under, over, more, through, and around. To reinforce the meaning of movement concepts and model the use of speech, a physical educator should talk with children as they participate in each movement lesson. For example, as children are pretending to be in the jungle climbing over rocks (bolsters under mats) and jumping over cutout ants and snakes (taped to the floor), a teacher might say, "I like the way everyone is jumping over the creatures in the jungle. Everyone find a creature and say ‘over' as we jump. Ready?" Prompting children to use the words to identify the concept (e.g., over) as they practice the skill (e.g., horizontal jump) reinforces the meaning of commonly taught concepts in early childhood and encourages children to use speech. Similarly, identifying shapes, colors, or equipment can become a natural part of an early childhood movement setting.

Children with speech and language delays or those who are nonverbal as a result of a particular disability or multiple disabilities might use augmentative and alternative systems to communicate (Millar, Light, & Schlosser, 2006). Sign language and picture systems are nonverbal options used by teachers to communicate with young children. Sign language is a popular method of communicating with young children of all abilities; however, children with communication delays and those who are hard of hearing might benefit in particular. Physical educators not proficient in sign language should consult with classroom teachers, interpreters, or speech therapists to learn the signs used by young children in the classroom.

Picture systems can also be used in a movement setting to increase communication between the child and teacher. Young children with autism often have sophisticated picture systems in place to assist with identifying activities, equipment, activity directions, and transitions. Picture systems can increase the probability that children with communication delays have the opportunity to engage in movement activities to the maximum extent possible. Helping a child understand what to do and when to do it often decreases the time needed to manage unwanted behaviors. Pictures posted in the activity area or taped to pieces of equipment are a great communication strategy for all children. A sequence of pictures, or visual schedule, posted to a board or paper is a functional method for communicating an activity, skill sequence, or transition to a child who is verbal or nonverbal. Visual schedules help children manage their environment while often decreasing the amount of adult intervention needed. Figure 22.3 shows an example of a young boy removing a picture of a completed activity from his schedule. The pictures remaining on the schedule give him a clear indication of activities to follow. Depending on the learning style of the child, all pictures can be on the board at the beginning of the class, or pictures can be added as the activity is presented.

Figure 22.3 Visual schedules help children manage their environments.
Visual schedules help children manage their environments.
© Lauriece Zittel

Voice output devices are another method used to communicate with children who are nonverbal. A voice output system makes use of pictures and symbols along with prerecorded words and phrases (Blischak, 2003). Programming movement concepts, names of equipment or activities, and general statements provides a child with functional communication during physical education. For young children using a voice output system, a movement setting might reinforce practice with a new voice output device.


Learn more about Adapted Physical Education and Sport, Sixth Edition.