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Physical activity for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers

A healthy and active start

Babies and youngsters need lots of movement, active play and healthy food, every day – and setting the foundations early can lead to lifelong health and wellbeing.

How much activity do babies and toddlers need?

Young children need active play every day. It’s through their play that young kids learn all about people, objects and the world around them.

A good way to look at it is: “young children learn to move and move to learn”. So, too much time sitting in pushers, car seats or other places where movement is limited means less chances to learn.

The more active a child is early in life, the more likely they will be active as an adult. Supervised floor based play should be encouraged from birth.

Toddlers and pre-schoolers should be physically active every day for at least three hours, spread throughout the day.

Moving and playing everyday

Even before children can walk and talk, spending time on their back and tummies, moving, interaction, and playing are all really important.

Just by looking at the smiles on their faces, we know that babies and youngsters love being active with us.

There are loads of ways that we can encourage kids to play, and help set up the habits for a healthy life. These include things like:

  • making sure that babies and toddlers have safe spaces for exploring, crawling and pulling themselves up
  • play push and pull games with balls and soft toys
  • carrying your baby while you walk
  • having objects around that your baby can move, reach out to and interact with.
  • making sure that your baby has time on their tummy and back, giving them ‘tummy time’ in a safe place helps them learn to kick, stretch, roll over, reach for things, pull themselves up, and explore their surroundings
  • being held, rocked or carried – it’s all part of learning
  • doing things together inside and outside the house such as hide and seek and follow the leader.
  • exploring different rooms
  • going outside and seeing what other people are doing
  • walking to the playground
  • walking, talking, dancing and singing action songs such as ‘head – shoulders – knees and toes’ or ‘Ring-A-Ring-A-Rosie’.
  • playing dress ups
  • playing action games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake
  • pretending to move like different animals.

As kids get older, being more active does take more planning, but stick with it and you'll find that they will benefit from it and indeed, so will you!

The Move and Play National Physical Activity Recommendations for Children 0 to 5 provides lots of ideas and information on how to keep children active.

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