Early Care and Education Physical Activity
Helping Families Move More
Many young children do not get the amount of physical activity that they need to be healthy.
Physical activity helps children develop motor skills and an enjoyment of movement that can last a lifetime. Experts encourage integration of physical activity into family time. Check out the resources below to learn more about physical activity at different ages and fun activities for families to try.
Physical activity guidelines
- Infants (0 to 12 months) should have daily-supervised activity, such as tummy time, developmental support activities, safe outdoor exploration and playtime with appropriate equipment such as rattles or balls.
- Tummy time is especially important for infants to build strength and coordination to reach milestones such as rolling over, sitting up and crawling. Recommended 2-3 times per day for at least 30 minutes total – getting on the floor during tummy time face-to-face to talk, sing and explore together can be a fun bonding experience for caregiver and infant.1
- Toddlers (1 to 2 years) should receive:
- At least 30 minutes of structured physical activity (creative movement, games, moving to music, etc.) and 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity per day.
- Encourage parents and caregivers to participate in active play to be a role model for these behaviors.
- Toddlers should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, except when sleeping, and screen time should be limited to less than one hour a day.1
- Preschoolers (ages 3 to 5) should receive:
- At least 60 minutes of structured physical activity (creative movement, games, moving to music, etc.) and 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity per day (like running, climbing, jumping, etc.).
- Appropriate toys for this age group includes tricycles, yoga mats, balls, rocking boats, basketball hoops, etc.
- Activities to strengthen bones that are appropriate for indoor or outdoor unstructured play include skipping, hopping, jumping and tumbling.2
- Preschoolers should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, except when sleeping.1
Children should play outdoors when the temperature does not pose a safety risk. Weather that poses a significant health risk should include wind chill factor at or below minus 15 degrees F and heat index at or above 90 degrees F, as identified by the National Weather Service.3
- Parents and caregivers are responsible for understanding the importance of physical activity. They should promote opportunities for physical activity led by an adult, as well as unstructured spontaneous free play.
- Providers and caregivers should also be active with children during physical activity time to act as role models for healthy behavior.
- Young children should have access to safe physical activity environments, both indoor and outdoor, that are large enough for large-muscle activities (involving legs and arms).
- CDC report: The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance (PDF)
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- Minnesota Department of Human Services Child Care
1The Nemours Foundation. (2009). Best Practices for Physical Activity: A guide to help children grow up healthy. Available at: https://www.nemours.org/content/dam/nemours/www/filebox/service/preventive/nhps/paguidelines.pdf
2U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018. Available at https://health.gov/paguidelines/secondedition/pdf/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf
3American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. (2011). Caring for Our Children: National Health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs. 3rd edition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; Washington DC: American Public health Association. Also available at http://ncrkids.org.