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Active play in childhood

Dr Dylan Cliff
School of Education

Promoting active play in childhood for healthy futures

As a physical and health educator, Dr Dylan Cliff is determined to create spaces for children that encourage active living to support their development and wellbeing.

Starting with his PhD, Dr Cliff evaluated education and public health programs designed to help kids be active and develop fundamental movement skills. His research has now expanded and involves working with childcare centres, teachers and parents to promote healthy levels of activity throughout the day and across all stages of childhood.

“We’ve often targeted the after-school window as a key period where children can choose what to do with their time. More recently, we’ve taken physical education into the early childhood space and we’re also looking at ways to implement change in traditional classrooms,” Dr Cliff says.


In his work, Dr Cliff employs comprehensive measures of health behaviours which includes tracking physical activity and sedentary behaviour to report on the benefits of programs for kids. At the same time, Dr Cliff engages with families and parents, delivering programs about simple ways to help kids stay active and limit recreational screen time.

Back-to-back fellowships from the National Heart Foundation and receiving an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award in 2014 and UOW’s Vice Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence for Emerging Researchers in 2015, has cemented Dr Cliff as a leading researcher in the field.

He has contributed to national policy through his work on sedentary behaviour for the National Heart Foundation’s Blueprint for an Active Australia and digital technology use for Early Childhood Australia and delivered practical training workshops for childcare workers as part of NSW Health’s Munch & Move Conferences.

Dr Cliff was also part of the expert leadership group tasked with developing the Australian 24-hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (from birth to five-years of age) which, for the first time internationally, integrated recommendations for physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep. Following this, Dr Cliff provided the first evidence that adhering to these guidelines benefits preschool children’s social and cognitive development.

Children playing

Dr Cliff is also promoting movement in schools, partnering with the Futures Learning Unit of the NSW Department of Education to explore how activity can be incorporated into different learning environments.

“In flexible learning spaces, children spend less time sitting and more time up on their feet and moving,” he says. “We see students working collaboratively in groups, and being creative to find solutions and solve problems – all skills of the future. From our perspective, these spaces may be beneficial for children’s health and well-being as well.”

Preliminary assessments by Dr Cliff and colleagues at UOW’s Early Start Research are informing the implementation of the roll-out across 1,600 school classrooms in NSW. They hope to investigate the longer-term health and educational benefits over the next 10 years.