Open Access Research article

An exploration of Early Childhood Education students’ knowledge and preparation to facilitate physical activity for preschoolers: a cross-sectional study

Olivia JM Martyniuk1 and Patricia Tucker2*

Author Affiliations

1 Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Program, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Western Ontario, 1151 Richmond St, London, ON N6A 3K7, Canada

2 School of Occupational Therapy, University of Western Ontario, 1201 Western Road, London, Ontario N6G 1H1, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:727  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-727

Published: 18 July 2014



Early childhood educators play an important role in influencing preschoolers’ physical activity levels. The current study sought to explore Early Childhood Education (ECE) students’ physical activity-related knowledge and educational experience during their formal training in Ontario.


A total of 1,113 ECE students from 20 Ontario Colleges completed the study survey (online or on paper), which examined students’ physical activity course content; awareness of physical activity guidelines; understanding of health-related benefits of physical activity; self-efficacy to facilitate physical activity for preschoolers; self-reported physical activity levels; as well as physical activity-related resource needs. Descriptive statistics and independent samples t-tests were used to analyze the quantitative findings.


Survey results identified that 72.1% of ECE students had not completed any physical activity/physical education specific courses, while only 28.7% were familiar with, and 2.0% accurately reported, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years. Only 10.5% of ECE students reported personal physical activity behaviors consistent with national recommendations for adults (150 minutes/week). ECE students’ mean overall task self-efficacy to facilitate physical activity was 7.37 (SD = 1.64). Self-efficacy was significantly higher (p < .05) when students had taken one or more courses devoted to physical activity/physical education, as well as when students engaged in sufficient physical activity to meet the national guidelines for adults (p < .05).


The results indicate that the current ECE college curriculum represents an excellent opportunity to provide future childcare providers with enriched physical activity-related training and support, such as physical activity guidelines, workshops, and new ideas for activities. Emphasizing the health benefits of physical activity for adults might be important in light of ECE students’ low self-reported physical activity levels.

Physical activity; Early childhood education students; Training; Preschool-aged children