Physical activity for children: tips, benefits and ideas to try

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From tossing a ball around to riding a tricycle: physical activity for children can take countless different forms. Young children are naturally inclined to be active and, when left to their own devices, will generally find new and creative ways to unleash their energy. 

While physical activities may not always resemble one another when compared, there is something that they all share in common: they play an incredibly important role in supporting not only your child’s health, but also their physical and mental development.


Benefits of physical activity for children

The benefits of physical activity for children are extremely diverse and can impact almost every aspect of their wellbeing.

In fact, physical activity forms a core component of the ideal early childhood learning environment. Numerous studies indicate that childhood exercise can contribute to lasting physical changes that boost one’s overall cognitive abilities, from memory retention to problem solving.

Other benefits of physical activity for children include:

  • Cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Strengthened muscles and bones
  • Improved gross and fine motor skills such as balance, coordination and flexibility
  • Reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression and improved mental health
  • Improved sleeping schedule
  • Reduced risk of injuries
  • Increased opportunities to socialise and make friends

Prioritising physical activity in childhood also sets the foundation for a lifelong appreciation of the importance of exercise.


How much physical activity do children need?

The amount of physical activity that each child requires will depend on numerous factors, most notably their age and stage of development.


Babies (Birth to 1 year)

Babies should not be kept inactive or restrained for more than one hour while awake. Physical activity for babies and young infants include tummy time and supervised floor play within a safe, clean and controlled environment. Babies should also be encouraged to reach, roll, sit up, crawl, pull and – when the time comes – walk within both indoor and outdoor spaces. 


Toddlers (2 to 3 years)

Toddlers should be active for at least 3 hours (or 180 minutes) per day, but preferably longer. This time can include light physical activity such as playing, moving around, rolling or more intense physical activity including skipping, running and jumping.


Preschoolers (4 to 5 years)

Similarly to toddlers, preschool aged children should also be active for the bare minimum of 3 hours a day. Ideally, preschoolers should not be kept inactive for longer than one hour unless sleeping.

From ages 5 and up, children should aim to do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day.


Is competitive physical activity and sport good for children?

Children’s competitive physical activity and sports offer an immense range of health and social benefits.

While organised sports/ activities can begin at any age, it’s best for children to wait until they are 6 or 7 until they sign up for competitive sports.


Benefits of competitive physical activity and organised sport for children

Competitive physical activity and organised sport both teach children valuable life lessons including teamwork, cooperation skills, the importance of taking turns, fair play and sportsmanship.

Organised sports also provide an excellent opportunity to socialise with similarly aged children and build up their confidence.


When should I sign my child up for organised sport?

Children’s gyms or local swimming pools often run tailored programs for toddlers aged between 2 or 3 and upwards. These programs provide a valuable space for children to develop their cognitive and physical skills in a safe, structured and fun environment with purpose-built activities designed for their age.

Meanwhile, competitive sports can begin as young as 6 or 7, but it’s more common for local sporting organisations to start offering competitions for kids between the ages of 8 to 10. Depending on the amount of interest that your child shows towards a particular sport, you could sign them up for competitive sports from any time past the age of 6.


Ideas for children’s physical activity

Encouraging physical activity is more complex than just turning off the television or driving your child to a nearby park. When coming up with physical activity ideas for children, it’s important to primarily focus on fun and then work backwards to incorporate a degree of movement or exercise into the activity. 

To help support your child’s development and sustain their health, we’ve compiled a list of fun children’s physical activity ideas that require varying levels of physical exertion. 


Light physical activity for children

Some light physical activities that can limit sedentary behaviour for your child include:

  • Going for a stroll with your child through the park or neighbourhood
  • Interactive floor-based play with blocks or other toys
  • Active play, including hide and seek, scavenger hunts and sidewalk chalk drawings
  • Blowing bubbles and chasing them
  • Wheeling or pushing toys
  • Playing in sand or supervised water/ ice play
  • Playing in a cubby house or blanket fort
  • Planting flowers or watering plants


Moderate physical activity for children

Moderate physical activity is a step up from light physical activity but doesn’t demand the endurance that vigorous physical activity might. Here are some ideas for more moderate physical activities that are ideal for outdoor play:

  • Playground equipment that allows children to climb, crawl, swing, balance and slide
  • Ball games that incorporate throwing, catching, kicking or even dribbling balls
  • Outdoor games such as tip, hop scotch, Simon Says or Red Light Green Light.
  • Dancing, twirling and jumping to music
  • Obstacle courses both indoors and outdoors
  • Hula hooping
  • Stretching


Vigorous physical activity for children

When your child reaches the age of 4 or 5, you can start incorporating more vigorous physical activities in their exercise routine to ensure they remain fit and healthy. Vigorous physical activities that can help children strengthen their bones, muscles and minds include: 

  • Swimming
  • Skipping with a rope
  • Running
  • Bicycle or scooter riding


Physical activity ideas for colder months

During winter or the wetter months, it can be difficult to maintain an exercise routine if you are relying on your backyard or local parks as the setting for your child’s physical activities. 

But the benefits of physical activity for children aren’t reserved for summer time. Luckily, there are plenty of indoor activities that can encourage your child to move, while also ensuring they have plenty of fun.

Some children’s physical activity ideas that are great for burning up excess energy are:


Tape games 

Simply use masking tape to create some shapes on the floor. Your child’s brimming creativity will have them envisioning a grand game that incorporates the shapes in no time. 


Balloon tennis

Blow up a balloon and use your hands to bat it back and forth with your child. Whoever lets it touch the ground first loses!


Indoor obstacle course

Encourage your child to create their own indoor obstacle course with pillows, sheets, toys and chairs. Then use your phone to time how long it takes them to complete it and see if they can beat that record.


Dance party

Pop on some music and dance the day away. Consider creating a contest of who can create the silliest or most creative dance moves.


How to keep your child active in childcare

At Aurrum Kids, our early learning framework relies upon creating fun activities that keep young minds and bodies active. Each Aurrum Kids childcare centre is specifically designed to encourage creativity and learning both indoors and outdoors. With outdoor kitchens, veggie patches, a water play area, a generous playground featuring all weather surfaces and a rainbow bike track, children are provided with an environment that actively supports their natural inclination towards movement and exploration.

Get in touch with us to book a tour at one of our Victoria or New South Wales locations and see for yourself how important it is to prioritise physical activity in your child’s early education years.