Background Low childhood physical activity levels are currently one of the most pressing public health concerns. Numerous school-based physical activity interventions have been conducted with varied success. Identifying effective child-based physical activity interventions are warranted. The purpose of this formative study was to elicit subjective views of children, their parents, and teachers about physical activity to inform the design of the CHANGE! (Children's Health, Activity, and Nutrition: Get Educated!) intervention programme. Methods Semi-structured mixed-gender interviews (group and individual) were conducted in 11 primary schools, stratified by socioeconomic status, with 60 children aged 9-10 years (24 boys, 36 girls), 33 parents (4 male, 29 female) and 10 teachers (4 male, 6 female). Questions for interviews were structured around the PRECEDE stage of the PRECEDE-PROCEDE model and addressed knowledge, attitudes and beliefs towards physical activity, as well as views on barriers to participation. All data were transcribed verbatim. Pen profiles were constructed from the transcripts in a deductive manner using the Youth Physical Activity Promotion Model framework. The profiles represented analysis outcomes via a diagram of key emergent themes. Results Analyses revealed an understanding of the relationship between physical activity and health, although some children had limited understanding of what constitutes physical activity. Views elicited by children and parents were generally consistent. Fun, enjoyment and social support were important predictors of physical activity participation, though several barriers such as lack of parental support were identified across all group interviews. The perception of family invested time was positively linked to physical activity engagement. Conclusions Families have a powerful and important role in promoting health-enhancing behaviours. Involvement of parents and the whole family is a strategy that could be significant to increase children's physical activity levels. Addressing various perceived barriers to such behaviours therefore, remains imperative.