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Developmentally-Appropriate Physical Activity Ideas1

Infants1

Keeping infants and toddlers in strollers, play pens or car/infant seats for extended periods of time may delay development such as rolling over, crawling and walking. It is important to support infants in being physically active from the start! Parents and caregivers must provide opportunities and encouragement for the development of these movement skills. Recommendations include:

  • Playing baby games (e.g., "peek-a-boo" and "patty-cake")
  • Holding, rocking or carrying the infant to new environments
  • Placing infant on his stomach and encouraging him to move actively on a clean or blanketed floor; also known as "tummy time"
    • Placing a rattle or favorite toy just out of his reach
    • Changing the position of the object to increase mobility and range of motion
  • Providing a variety of safe play objects that cannot be swallowed, are lightweight for handling and grasping, have no sharp edges or points, are brightly colored, vary in texture and are non-toxic
  • Designating a safe space for playing, rolling and other large muscle activities
  • Ensuring close supervision in an open environment for the exploration and development of movement skills (e.g., rolling over, sitting up, crawling, creeping and standing)
  • Interacting with the infant as long as he is attentive to playful activity—use facial, verbal and nonverbal expressions to motivate the infant's physical participation

Toddlers1

Toddlers will use their new walking skills to energetically explore the world around them, revealing new movement possibilities and increased opportunity for learning. Basic movement skills (e.g., running, jumping, throwing and kicking) will develop and emerge as children try them and gain experience. It is important for parents/guardians and child care providers to create environments that support these movements by:

  • Emphasizing skills (e.g., throwing, catching, kicking and striking objects) when developmentally-appropriate
  • Engaging in activities that encourage the toddler to support her body weight with her hands as she begins to develop upper body strength
  • Providing objects for structured activity to enhance movement and social skills
    • Child-size equipment, musical instruments, active follow-along songs and basic rhythms, chase games
  • Creating opportunities to experiment with unstructured activity experiences
    • Places to crawl under and around, grasping large balls and inflatable toys, digging and building in sandboxes
  • Providing objects that promote strength, balance, flexibility and endurance
    • Riding toys; push and pull toys; toys to balance on, climb up on, jump safely down from to ground level
  • Designating a safe space indoors and outdoors for active play
  • Offering encouragement and child-size toys and equipment to maintain interest and help the toddler learn new movement skills

Preschoolers1

Preschoolers are mastering skills such as running, jumping and throwing. They develop confidence in their abilities over time when they have opportunities to follow their interests and learn and practice new skills. Preschool children are often very social and imaginative; they love games, dancing, riding tricycles and creating obstacle courses to move through. Use these tips to be active with your preschoolers:

  • Offer a wide range of opportunities for physical activity as well as some basic equipment:
    • Different kinds of balls and bean bags
    • Old boxes or tunnels to crawl through
    • Tricycle or other riding toys
    • Access to climbing equipment at a playground
    • Push-pull toys like wagons, doll buggies or lawn mower
  • Have a "Movement Parade" - march around the room or outside and call out different things that kids can do like twirl, leap, hop, jump, etc.
  • Play simple singing games that involve movement: "Hokey-Pokey," "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" or "If You're Happy and You Know It!"
  • Incorporate running games such as "Tag", "Red Light-Green Light" or "Freeze Tag"
  • Parents can involve the entire family in household tasks such as setting the table, sorting laundry, folding clothes, putting away toys, cleaning the house, packing for a trip, tending the garden, etc.

School-Age Children2

School-age children need a variety of intensity levels of physical activity to meet their daily needs. Moderate levels of physical activity are at intensities faster than a slow walk, but still allow children to talk easily.2 Vigorous levels of physical activity are at intensities like a fast walk, jog or run that get children "breathless" or breathing deeper and faster than during typical activities. Children who are "breathless" are exercising their heart and lungs along with muscles in their arms and legs! Use the examples below to help you choose appropriate activities for school-age children:

  • Play games that incorporate music, imitation and simple directions where children are the leaders
  • Play games that incorporate strength, coordination and confidence; finding hidden objects, relay races, obstacle courses, variety of "tag" games, tug-of-war
  • Provide safe objects to throw, kick and catch
  • Provide free space, toys and equipment, for example:
    • Climbers
    • Monkey bars
    • Yoga mats
    • Balls
    • Balance beams
    • Rocking boats
    • Hopscotch
    • Hoops
  • Encourage children to adapt or invent their own games
  1. Nemours Health and Prevention Services (2009). "Best Practices for Physical Activity: A Guide to Help Children Grow Up Healthy." http://www.nemours.org/content/dam/nemours/www/filebox/service/preventive/nhps/paguidelines.pdf. Accessed June 23, 2010.
  2. American College of Sports Medicine, American Heart Association. Physical activity and public health guidelines. http://www.acsm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home_20Page&TEMPLATE=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=7764. Accessed July 2009.
  3. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. Promoting Physical Activity: A Guide for CommunityAction. 1999.