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Physical Activity - Early Years

Physical activity starts in the early years and provides children with the abilities they need to interact with and explore their world. Children develop movement skills in a similar order. First they gain control of their neck, then they learn to roll, then how to sit and eventually, how to walk. These are some of the basic physical developmental milestones. You can help your child learn and practice new movement skills by playing and promoting physical activity. The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (0-4 years) recommend a balance of moving, sitting and sleeping for children to encourage healthy growth and development – the whole day matters! 

NOTICE: The physical activity examples found in this area of our website were developed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and may not be suitable in the current environment. Please remember the need for physical distancing, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces and toys, when planning activities for children. Learn more →

 

Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (0-4 years)

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (0-4 Years) recommends a balance of moving, sleeping and sitting in a 24-hour period. Keep your baby, toddler and preschooler active every day to help them grow well and be healthy.  Read more:

Tips

Any activity you can do safely with your child is good for their healthy growth and development, and building a lifelong love of physical activity. Try to cut down on the time that your baby, toddler or preschooler spends being sedentary (e.g. sitting in an infant seat or playpen) when they are awake.

  • Create a safe place for play
  • Put a blanket on the floor and play with your baby
  • Play music and learn action songs together
  • Dress for the weather and play outdoors
  • Make time to play with other children
  • Get where you’re going by walking or biking
 

Active Play with Your Baby

Physical activity begins in infancy and continues throughout life. For healthy growth and development, babies, toddlers and preschoolers need to be physically active.

In the first year of life, play with your baby several times each day choosing a safe place such as a blanket on the floor. Make safety your first priority as you allow your infant to experience movement through grasping toys, rolling from side to side or crawling.

When your baby begins to crawl, inspect the floor for any small objects he or she could choke on. If a small object or toy can fit in a toilet paper roll, it is too small for children under age 3.

Here are some other ideas for you to try:

 

Tummy Time with Your Baby

Give your infant regular “tummy time.” When they lift their head to look around, they strengthen their neck and upper body. After all those push-ups, crawling will be next!

Here are some tips and reasons for tummy time:

  • Lie down on your stomach facing your baby and look at the toys together;
  • Place a towel roll under your baby's arms and chest to provide extra support;
  • Helps babies develop head control;
  • Allows babies to strengthen their upper body muscles (arms and shoulders);
  • Helps babies learn how to roll, sit, crawl, and pull up into standing sooner;
  • Anytime babies are awake and supervised is a good time for tummy time;
  • This is an important part of your baby's daily routine;
  • If baby becomes fussy, pick them up and comfort them and try again later

For images and more information, check out:

 

Active Play with Your Toddler

Toddlers (1-2 years) should get at least 180 minutes of physical activity spread throughout the day at any intensity, including energetic play. Any activity that gets your child moving is great (e.g. crawling, climbing stairs, or fast walking).  More activity provides even greater health benefits.

Here are some other ideas for you to try:

  • Teach your child songs with actions and sing. 
  • Play along with your child. They love it when you join in the fun! 
  • As they grow, they will become more energetic and can be taught movement skills such as hopping, skipping, dancing and rolling or throwing balls.

Keep Safety Your Number One Priority!

  • At all times, ensure your child is supervised and playing in safe places.
  • From the time your baby begins to crawl, inspect the floor for any small objects he or she could choke on.
  • Make your home a safer place for your child to explore. For example, keep spaces clutter free, pad sharp edges on furniture and fasten bookshelves and tall furniture to the wall.
  • If a small object or toy can fit into a toilet paper roll, it's too small for children under the age of 3 years.
 

Active Play with Your Preschooler

Preschoolers (3-4 years) should get at least 180 minutes of physical activity spread throughout the day, of which at least 60 minutes is energetic play - more is better.  Energetic play refers to activities for young children that get them working hard, breathing heavy and feeling warm. Suggested activities include running, dancing or playing outside.  More activity provides even greater health benefits!

Here are some other ideas for you to try:

  • Teach your child songs with actions and sing.
  • Play along with your child. They love it when you join in the fun!
  • As they grow, they will become more energetic and can be taught movement skills such as hopping, skipping, dancing and rolling or throwing balls.
  • These movements are important for sports and leisure activities later on.
  • Choose different places to play. Outdoor play time is especially good for children who are learning while they explore their environments.
  • Pick flowers, plant seeds in a garden or go to a playground and climb on play structures.
  • Activities for Kids
  • Activités pour enfants

Safety is your number one priority!

  • At all times, ensure your child is supervised and playing in safe places.
  • Make your home a safer place for your child to explore. For example, keep spaces clutter free, pad sharp edges on furniture and fasten bookshelves and tall furniture to the wall.

Build activity into your day easily:

  • Bike or walk whenever possible when going to a friend’s house, running errands or buying a few groceries. It’s an easy way for the whole family to be active.
  • Invite neighbours to join you for some social time and always dress for the weather. Rain boots are just the thing for splashing in puddles!
Whatever activity you do, make sure it’s fun. This builds positive feelings about physical activity that will help your growing child to be active for life!
 

Sleep

Sufficient sleep is important for your child's health and always make certain that sleep is safe! Read more:

 

Sitting

For healthy growth and development reduce sitting time during waking hours.

  • Children should not be restrained in a stroller, car seat, high chair, etc for more than 1 hour at a time.
  • Children should not sit for long periods of time.
  • Screen time is not recommended for children under 2 years of age.
  • For children aged 2-4 years, screen time should be limited to under 1 hour per day - less is better!
  • Read more about Screen Time
 

Southwest Physical Activity Promoters Network (SWPAPN)

Social Media Campaign
The SWPAPN Social Media Campaign can be used by individuals and organizations to raise awareness about the right amount of physical activities, sedentary behaviours and sleep children in the early years need for healthy growth and development. 

Move More

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Sleep Better

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Sit Less

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Date of creation: February 28, 2013
Last modified on: April 1, 2021
 
 

References

1Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. (2021). Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (0-4 Years). Retrieved from
http://csepguidelines.ca/early-years-0-4/
2About Kids Health. 2021. Physical Development of Babies. Retrieved from
https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Article?contentid=481&language=English
3Caring for Kids. 2019. Your Child’s Development: What to expect. Retrieved from
http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/your_childs_development