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Incorporating Physical Activity throughout the Day

There are many ways to incorporate physical activity throughout the day at your child care center or home. The good news is that the recommended daily amount of physical activity does not have to be performed all at once! It can be broken down in smaller sections of time (e.g., ten-minute intervals) as it fits into your schedule. Also, children can be active in structured or unstructured ways — indoors, outdoors, alone, or in groups with friends or family.

Structured Activity
Adult-led and includes daily planned activity that supports age-appropriate motor skill development.
Unstructured Activity
Child-led free play and includes activities that encourage children’s individual abilities and interests and allows them to explore their environment.1

Both structured activity and free play contribute to a child’s development. A child learns many fundamental skills as she plays including problem-solving, motor-skills building, sharing, and overcoming physical and mental challenges. Free play also develops a child’s creativity and imagination and encourages her to interact with the world around her. A playground is a great way to support outdoor free play and should include many of the following:

  • A riding toy area
  • A ball area
  • A lifting/pulling area
  • A building/work/project area
  • Garden boxes
  • Opportunities for hauling things
  • An open space for creative, active play
  • A space for music, sound or creative movement
  • Loose parts for building (e.g., boxes, sawhorses and boards)
  • A raised pile of mulch, sand or dirt for climbing and digging
  • Earth forms such as little grassy hills and small fields
  • Elements from the natural world (e.g., stumps, logs and rocks)2

Your Role as a Child Care Provider

As a child care provider, you play a key role in children’s lives, helping them learn and grow. Your role includes stimulating children’s physical, emotional, intellectual and social growth. You help them explore individual interests, develop talents and extend their learning through hands-on projects. Additionally, you support children’s independence, self-esteem and positive interactions with others. You also play an important role in helping to develop positive attitudes and behaviors toward physical activity. And your role doesn’t stop there—be sure to move along with the children! Your active participation is important in motivating children and providing a model for the enjoyment of physical activity. It is also important to encourage every child to participate in and enjoy all activities regardless of their skills.3

  1. Nemours Health & Prevention Services (2009). “Best Practices for Physical Activity: A Guide to Help Children Grow Up Healthy.”
  2. National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), 2009. Active Start: A Statement of Physical Activity Guidelines for Children from Birth to Age 5, 2nd edition.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Child Care Workers. Accessed June 15, 2010.