Daily physical activity: focusing on fun
When you’re choosing physical activity for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, focus on activities that are fun.
If children enjoy what they’re doing, they’re more likely to want to keep doing it. And physical activities that children enjoy will increase their confidence and ability to move well.
Physical activity is vital to your child’s healthy growth and development. And it can start very early in life as part of your child’s everyday play.
Physical activity for children: 0-2 years
Babies aged 0-12 months need plenty of opportunities for free movement and floor play, as long as they can do it in a safe environment. An environment that encourages your child to explore and develop skills like reaching, rolling, sitting up, crawling, pulling up and walking is great.
Your child can be active inside or outside. Being outside can provide endless opportunities to use big muscles, think creatively and learn more about the environment.
Before your child is walking
Australian guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day when your child is awake. Tummy time builds your child’s head, neck and upper body muscles, which your child needs for rolling, creeping, crawling and sitting later on.
You can make the most of tummy time in many ways. For example, when your child lifts their head, try looking into their eyes and then moving your gaze. Your child might follow your eyes and turn their head. You can also talk, sing, clap or play peekaboo to encourage your child to lift their head, look, turn and move.
Low-cost toys are great for tummy time too. For example, try old boxes with bright colours, drawings of dots, squares or stars, shiny surfaces, or changing textures. Plastic containers with things that rattle or make sounds can also interest your child. Just make sure container lids are on very tightly. If you put toys or objects just out of reach, it encourages your child to move towards them.
A large blanket on the floor or the grass outside can be a safe, clean and welcoming place for tummy time. When you put your child on the floor or ground, just remember to look for potential hazards at their level. Stay with your child to keep them safe.
Once your child is walking
Once your child is walking, you can encourage your child just by letting them move often. This means plenty of time out of the pram or stroller. In fact, it’s best for your child to spend no more than an hour at a time sitting or restrained.
This is a great time to look for objects and activities that encourage movement. This could be climbing a slide at the local playground or just walking or using a tricycle, scooter or push-along toy to get around.
Playing together and praising your child as they learn to move also encourages your child to keep going.
Physical activity for children: 2-5 years
Toddlers and preschoolers need plenty of free time and space to run around and play. Backyards, school playgrounds, empty sporting fields, adventure playgrounds, school playgrounds, parks, trails and the beach are all great places.
Here are ideas for keeping physical activity fun:
- Use balls of different textures and sizes to practise catching, hitting, bouncing and kicking. Some rolled-up socks can be good for this activity too.
- Make up games that involve different types of movement. For example, get your child to chase bubbles, walk, run or skip along chalk lines, gather shells, or jump over puddles or cracks in the ground.
- Play different kinds of music, or make sounds with your voice or instruments. This can encourage dancing and a sense of rhythm.
- Invent silly walks and runs with your child. You could play guess the animal games, where you run like a monkey, jump like a bunny, flap like a bird and so on.
- When your child is ready, let them try learning to ride a bike, scooter or tricycle – under your supervision, of course. Your child might also enjoy playing with push toys like trucks, doll prams and toy lawn mowers.
- Leave the car or stroller at home when you can and walk to local places like the library, park or shops.
How much physical activity does your child need? Toddlers and preschoolers should be physically active every day for at least 3 hours, spread throughout the day.
Organised physical activity and sport
When is the right time to sign up your child for organised sport? When your child is ready is the simple answer.
If your younger child is interested in organised sport, it might be worth looking for a non-competitive sport. Some sports offer modified versions for preschoolers – for example, Soccajoeys, Grasshopper Soccer, Little Kickers, Ready Steady Go or Gymbaroo. Other options could be dance, gymnastics or swimming classes.
Modified sports and junior physical activity programs usually focus on introducing children to structured, organised sports, developing physical and social skills, building confidence, and getting everyone to have a go. That’s because there’s no need to pressure young children about perfect technique or winning and losing. It’s more important for them to learn about the fun of playing, being active and trying hard.
If you think your child is ready for organised sport, you could talk to other parents about sport and physical activity programs or classes in your area. Also talk to people at the program and even the instructor for your child’s age group. Go along and watch other children playing. It’s important for young children to enjoy their first experiences of sport.
A sign of a good program is children having fun.
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.