Physical Activities for Kids

Physical activity helps set the foundation for lifelong healthy habits and hence it is important for toddlers. However, you may be thinking if your toddler can get started with certain types of exercise or organised sports. Read on to know more about the types of safe physical activities for 2- to 3-year-olds, the benefits of daily movement, and the types of sports you should wait with until your child is older.

Your Toddler’s Everyday Active Play

Your toddler will be constantly on the move soon after he wakes up until the bedtime. Activities like walking, running, jumping, climbing, throwing a ball, dancing, or pulling a toy around support your toddler’s healthy development. These activities for toddlers can be considered as a stepping-stone to organised sports that he'll play later on.

Since the attention span of a toddler is short, you’ll watch him switching activities from a minute to the next, which is totally alright. Try to encourage him to indulge in such types of physical activities as much as possible. To make room for enough physical activity, try limiting the screen time to one hour or less per day.

The best way is to play along with your child. If not possible, try supervising him while he plays with his siblings or other children of a similar age. Another way to encourage him to get moving is to take him to a park or playground. However, if not possible, it’s perfectly fine to also let the physical activities happen indoors.

While out with your child, hold his hand and let him walk next to you. This will give him a taste of how fun it is to be physically active. Once your child’s coordination improves, he’ll be able to confidently walk up and down stairs, run, start pedalling a tricycle or a bicycle with training wheels, etc.

Benefits of Physical Activity for Children

Regular physical activity for children and adolescents comes with many long-term benefits, including:

  • Improving cardiorespiratory fitness

  • Building strong bones and muscles

  • Helping with weight control

  • Reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression

  • Reducing the risk of developing health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and/or obesity.

How Much Physical Activity Does Your Toddler Need?

Experts recommend that toddlers get the following amount of physical activity and exercise on a daily basis:

  • At least 30 minutes of structured physical activity that’s led by an adult. This could be playing a game, throwing a soft ball, or even acting out a scene from a story book.

  • A minimum of 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity that’s supervised by an adult. This could be make-believe play, running around the backyard, or having over a friend for a playdate.

  • Think of these recommendations as starting points and know that exercise and physical activity can be sprinkled throughout the day in shorter bursts rather than as long blocks. Other than during sleep, toddlers shouldn't be inactive for more than an hour at a time.

Examples of Physical Activities for Toddlers and Pre-schoolers

Toddlers and pre-schoolers benefit the most from unstructured but closely supervised active play, which can include:

  • Running

  • Hopping

  • Skipping

  • Jumping

  • Tumbling

  • Playing catch

  • Dancing

  • Swimming (eventually your child will need lessons, but in the beginning, you can focus on parent-child water play)

  • Riding a tricycle and later a bicycle

  • Climbing on playground equipment.

Family-Focused Activities and Games for Toddlers

Here are some specific games for 2- to 3-year-olds that they can play with the family either indoors or outdoors:

  • Imitate the walk of animals such as waddling like a penguin or hopping like a frog

  • Play games like "Simon Says" or "Follow the leader"

  • Jump, hop, skip, or walk backwards in the garden or park

  • Grab a pair of non-toxic crayons and spread a sheet of paper - scribble away with your kid

  • Make a bridge using your body and let your child climb over you or crawl under you

  • Play music and dance together

  • Play chain, hide-and-seek, dog-and-the-bone, or hopscotch outside

  • Play freeze tag or freeze dance

  • Organise a treasure hunt with items hidden throughout the house or backyard

  • Set up an obstacle course in the house made from pillows, chairs, boxes, and toys

  • Set up some pillows on the floor and pretend the floor is a sea, which your kid has to cross without falling in

  • Use a soft foam ball to play ball indoors or outdoors, such as catch, kickball, volleyball, basketball, bowling, dodgeball, or football.

Read more about creating family routines and rituals.

What Physical Activities Are Toddlers Capable Of?

Many children enjoy the opportunity to be physically active, and some show an interest in sports from a young age. However, this doesn’t mean your child will become a basketball player at two years old.

Keep in mind that depending on your child’s age, maturity level, and capabilities, certain physical activities may be more appropriate than others. If you’re ever unsure of what’s safe or right for your little one, ask your child’s paediatrician for personalised advice.

As a general guideline, the average three-year-old toddler may be able to:

  • Walk and run well

  • Jump in place

  • Balance on one foot

  • Catch and throw a ball

  • Kick a ball forward

  • Pedal a tricycle/bicycle.

4 Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing Physical Activities for Kids

Although there are several factors to note before choosing sports or a group activity, the important one to consider is your child's wish to participate in it. If he doesn't want to participate, it is best to reassess the situation. Avoid forcing your child to participate in a sport against his wish, as it can lead to challenges between you both. Your child may get frustrated and become resentful due to this. If your toddler wishes to play, encourage him to do so in a safe and healthy way. The following tips can be helpful in such situations:

  • Keep things simple:

When introducing your child to sports, try keeping things simple. If your child is in elementary school, he should only learn the essentials. Find teams or organisations that work on skill building and basics, where the coach will prioritise giving your kid a chance to try out different positions and roles on the team. Instead of encouraging your child to specialise in one particular sport, try sampling a variety of sports. Focussing on one sport can lead to an early burnout and exponentially increase the risk of long-term injuries due to excessive exertion and overuse. So, let your kid play a mix of different sports.

  • Be patient:

Team sports involves taking turns, following rules, focussing, and sharing. For children, this can be frustrating. Show some patience and stay calm and collected to help your kid through these moments.

  • Be positive:

Create a positive and uplifting environment with age-appropriate expectations. Remember, intense competitiveness and intimidation can lead to negative effects, promoting low self-esteem and anxiety. So, try to be encouraging, reassuring, and supportive no matter what.

  • Stay away from competition:

While competition can be enjoyable, it is best for your young child to avoid competition. Instead, encourage him to have fun while playing. Read more about how your toddler interacts with peers.

Why Sports for Toddlers Aren't Recommended?

Children between the ages of two and five are still learning the basics like throwing, catching, and taking turns. They don’t yet have the basic motor skills needed for organised sports. They’re still working on their coordination and visual skills too.

Moreover, competitive sports that have a win or lose concept aren't a good choice for young children, who likely won't be able to grasp that their self-worth isn’t based on the outcome of winning or losing. Plus, understanding and following the rules of competitive sports will still be too difficult for young children.

For this reason, during the toddler years, focus on supervised, unstructured active play like running around in your backyard or playing with other children at the local park, as well as some structured play with you, such as playing catch or dancing together, for example.

This type of play means your toddler gets to have fun while exercising and developing his skills and spending time together with you also nurtures the parent-child relationship. As your child grows and matures, there will be plenty of time later on for him to develop an interest in organised sports.

Also read about 40 games and activities for toddler at home.

Are There Advantages to Signing Up Your Toddler for Sports?

Participating in sports at a very young age does not necessarily mean your toddler or pre-schooler will have a great athletic performance in the future. In fact, it can actually make your child frustrated and discourage him from playing sports in the future.

If you wish to sign your toddler or pre-schooler up for a team sport, go for the one that'll help him learn the fundamentals but will also focus more on fun than competition.

If you enrol your child in such an organised team play, ensure that the games are short, and he is having fun playing with other children. Make sure the players are rotated frequently so that each child gets different positions in that particular sport.

The Takeaway

Although supporting your child’s development by getting him involved in physical activities is wonderful, remember that enrolling your child too early in organised sports also has real risks. You can start by letting your toddler enjoy and have fun through structured and unstructured play every day. As it is great for his health and development, it also ensures that his body gets all the necessary movements.

It is also important to limit the screen time to help encourage your toddler to get up and moving as often as possible. You can introduce your child to a variety of sports once he is developmentally ready. To help him develop a love of organised sports, let him focus on the fun he feels while playing it.

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