Physical activity behaviours of highly active preschoolers


Address for correspondence: Ms EK Howie, 921 Assembly St. Suite 212, Columbia, SC 29201, USA. E-mail:


What is already known about this subject

  • Many preschool children do not participate in adequate physical activity, despite physical activity being a critical behaviour for obesity prevention.
  • Environmental factors such as indoor and outdoor settings affect physical activity levels.
  • Direct observation and accelerometry are valid and complementary methods for assessing physical activity.

What this study adds

  • This study uses both direct observation and accelerometry to describe a unique pattern of physical activity in high-active children.
  • High-active children are more active than lower-active children while indoors.
  • High-active children participate in different movement types throughout the school day compared with lower-active children.


Understanding the physical activity behaviour of young children who are highly active may provide important guidance for promoting physical activity in preschools.


The objective of this study was to describe the movement characteristics of high-active (HA) children during attendance at preschools.


Children in 20 preschools (n = 231) wore accelerometers and were classified into tertiles of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Children's movement characteristics were observed using the Observational System for Recording Physical Activity in Children – Preschool Version. Mixed-model analyses compared movement types between HA children and lower-active (LA) children during the total school day.


HA (n = 77) children were observed to be more active than LA children (n = 154) indoors (P < 0.001), but no differences were observed outdoors. HA children were more frequently observed running, crawling, climbing, jumping, skipping, swinging and throwing across the total school day than LA children. Outdoors, HA children participated in more swinging and throwing and less jumping or skipping than LA children. Indoors, HA children spent more time pulling, pushing and running, and less time walking than LA children.


HA children have unique activity patterns. Further interventions to increase physical activity of all preschoolers should increase the time spent outside and include varied activity types throughout the entire school day.