Getting children to be physically active
The keys to getting children to be active are:
- making sure they have everyday opportunities for physical activity
- helping them find physical activities that they like
- role-modelling a positive attitude to physical activity.
Dancing around the house, skipping and running around the backyard, playing with balls or flying a kite – it doesn’t matter how children move, as long as they have plenty of opportunities to move in ways they enjoy.
Physical activity is vital for children’s health and wellbeing, now and in the future. As children grow and develop, they need different types and amounts of physical activity. They also need time and space for free play.
Space for physical activity and play
Whatever space you have for physical activity and play is fine, so long as your child can move around and have fun.
If you feel that you don’t have a lot of play space at home, you could take your child to a park, sports field, beach, friend’s or family member’s house, library, school, community centre or other place with space to play.
You could also talk to neighbours with other young children about taking turns supervising your children’s play outside or at the local park.
Time for physical activity and play
When your child has plenty of time for play, they can explore and use spaces in their own way.
You might need to adjust your family schedule to help your child be more active. For example, you might schedule in active play with your child when you’re not working. This could be activities like kicking a ball or playing in the park.
You can also fit in more time for your child’s active play if you include it in everyday activities. For example, you could time how fast your child can pack away their toys or games. And the next time your child is packing up, see whether they can beat their record.
Variety in physical activity and play
Plenty of variety in your child’s mix of play, sports, games and activities will keep them excited about moving. And when your child tries out different activities, they can pick up new skills, stay interested and challenged, and get enough physical activity into their day. They’re also more likely to find something they enjoy.
You can help your child find and try different activities.
For example, children who like balancing might enjoy climbing, cycling, playgrounds, dance or gymnastics. Others who like hand-eye coordination tasks might enjoy ball games in the park, ten-pin bowling, Frisbee or sports like cricket or tennis.
Children with disability can do many physical activities and sports. Many sports can be modified so that children with disability can fully participate and be included.
Role-modelling and sending positive messages about physical activity
You are your child’s most important role model. You can help your child be active by being a good role model and sending positive messages about being physically active.
Ways to do this include:
- being active yourself – your child will notice and be more likely to follow your lead
- giving your child praise and encouragement for participating in physical activity
- making time to have fun playing actively with your child – it’s great to find something you both enjoy doing
- supporting but not coaching your child when they’re learning something new – just try saying, ‘I enjoy watching you play’
- going along to watch and support your child when they try an organised sport or group lesson for the first time
- practising physical activities with your child – for example, you could run or skip together and talk about how your fitness and skills are improving.
Planning physical activities for your child
Time and space for unplanned physical activity is great. But sometimes you might want to organise physical activity for your child. You can still keep the focus on fun:
- Set up playdates that involve activity – it could be as simple as meeting friends at the park or playground.
- Go camping or nature walking as a family.
- Make an obstacle course or a chalk racetrack at the local playground.
- Have an activities box at home and in the car with balls, bats, kites, beach buckets and spades so that you’re always prepared for outdoor games.
- Consider gifts that encourage activity, like kites, skipping ropes, balls, sporting equipment or bikes and scooters.
You can use screen time to encourage your child to get up and move. For example, choose games or apps that encourage your child to move, like dancing games or virtual sports simulators. Use a digital map to plan a walk to the shops or a bushwalk. Or video your child learning a new physical skill.
Walking: a great way to get more physical activity into the day
One of the easiest ways to incorporate activity into your child’s routine is to take regular walks together.
You can walk to school, preschool or child care. Or you can walk around your neighbourhood, looking for parks along the way. You can start when your child is a baby with outings in a sling, carrier or pram.
Walking most days has many benefits for you and your child. These benefits include:
- keeping you and your child feeling happy and well
- giving your child opportunities to learn and practise road rules and road safety
- making your child aware of their neighbourhood
- giving you and your child the chance to talk and spend time together
- meeting neighbours along the route, and chatting with other parents at the school gate
- helping your child feel good about where they live.
You can increase the range of your walks by following nature trails in parks and taking trips to interesting locations – for example, botanical gardens, local bushland, or places with waterfalls.
Parking your car or getting off the bus a little distance from the playground or park can also help you get more walking into your day.