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Let Me Move... Watch Me Grow

Physical activity for ages 0-4

Early childhood is the ideal time to lay the foundation for children to be physically active. This is a time when children learn basic motor skills such as running, jumping and climbing. These movements are the building blocks to allow them to develop more complex movements.

Physical activity requirements can be reached with several short 10-minute periods of activity added up throughout the day.

Play is the primary form of physical activity for children up to school age. Toddlers and preschoolers are naturally active, so encourage this as much as possible.

How much physical activity do young children need?

Toddlers (aged 1-2 years) and preschoolers (aged 3-4 years):

  • The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines (external link) recommend toddlers and preschoolers should accumulate at least 180 minutes of physical activity at any intensity spread throughout the day.
    • This should include a variety of activities in different environments, as well as activities that develop movement skills.

Creative ideas for physical activity

Benefits of physical activity for young children

Children should be active every day, both indoors and outdoors. The more daily physical activity a child gets, the more beneficial it is for them.

Physical activity:

Promoting physical activity

Young children love to move and need many opportunities to be physically active. Encourage your child to move in all kinds of ways. Play (external link) is the primary form of physical activity for young children.

As a parent, you can promote physical activity (external PDF file) by:

  • Ensuring your child is active every day, indoors and outdoors, in both structured and unstructured activities.
  • Praising your child for participating in an activity.
  • Emphasizing fun rather than competition.
  • Providing activities that are safe and suitable for your child’s developmental stage (external link).
  • Ensuring your child is dressed in comfortable clothing that does not restrict play.
  • Being an active role model by participating in games, dancing, action songs and outdoor play yourself.

What about inactivity?

Parents and caregivers should limit the time children (0-4yrs) spend being inactive to no more than one hour at a time while awake. This includes prolonged sitting or being restrained (e.g., stroller, high chair).

To reduce your child’s inactive time (external PDF file), parents can:

  • Limit use of playpens and infant seats when baby is awake
  • Explore and play with your child
  • Stop during long car trips for playtime
  • Take your child outside every day
  • Keep TVs and computers out of bedrooms
  • Set limits and have rules about screen time

What about screen time?

  • For children under 2 years, screen time is not recommended.
  • For children 2-4 years, screen time should be limited to less than one hour per day.
  • Screen time includes TV, computer and electronic games.
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What are the benefits of being physically active?

Being active for at least 60 minutes daily can help children and youth to:

  • Improve their health
  • Do better in school
  • Have fun playing with friends
  • Improve self confidence
  • Feel happier
  • Learn new skills
Age Recommendations for physical activity Recommendations for inactive behaviour
(birth - 1 year)
  • Several times daily, especially through interactive floor-based play.
  • Being active as an infant means: 
    • tummy time
    • reaching for or grasping balls or other toys
    • playing or rolling on the floor
    • crawling around the home
  • In general, limit time spent being inactive while awake.
    • No more than 1 hour at a time, this includes prolonged sitting or being restrained (e.g., stroller, high chair, car seat).
  • Screen time is not recommended.
    (e.g., TV, computer, electronic games)
(1-2 years)

(3-4 yrs)

  • Accumulate at least 3 hours at any intensity spread throughout the day, including:
    • A variety of activities in different environments
    • Activities that develop movement skills
    • Progression toward at least 60 minutes of energetic play by 5 years of age
  • Being active as a toddler or preschooler means:
    • Any activity that gets kids moving
    • Climbing stairs and moving around the home
    • Playing outside and exploring the environment
    • Crawling, brisk walking, running or dancing
  • The older children get, the more energetic play they need such as:
    • hopping
    • jumping
    • skipping
    • bike riding
  • No more than 1 hour at a time while awake.
  • For  children under 2 years, screen time is not recommended
    (e.g., TV, computer, electronic games)
  • For children 2-4 years, screen time should be limited to under 1 hour/day; less is better
  • Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years – 0-4 years
  • Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years – 0-4 years
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Age Recommendations for physical activity Recommendations for sedentary behaviour
Children and youth
5-11 years
Children aged 5-11 years should get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to vigorous-intensity physical activity every day. This should include:
  • Vigorous-intensity activities at least 3 days/week
  • Activities that strengthen muscle and bone at least 3 days/week
  • More is better!
Sedentary (or inactive) time should be limited. Try these tips:
  • Limit recreational screen time (e.g., TV or computer games) to less than 2 hours daily;
  • Encourage active transportation (walking or biking)
  • Limit extended sitting and time spent indoors
  • Moderate physical activity will cause children to sweat a little and breathe harder.  Activities like: bike riding or playground activities
  • Vigorous physical activity will cause children to sweat and be 'out of breath'.  Activities like: running, basketball, soccer, swimming
Adapted from Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology
  • Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines (2011)
  • Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children and Youth (2011)
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How can I help my child to be physically active?

  • Make the activity fun.
  • Send them outside to play.
  • Replace time on the Internet, in front of the TV, or playing video games with outdoor play time or sports like, soccer, hockey or playing Frisbee.
  • Slowly start to build up to the 90 minutes a day, by starting with 30 minutes a day.
  • Break the 60 minutes up into 10 minute chunks so not to overwhelm your child.
  • Check the Participaction website (external link) for more great ideas!
  • Lead an active lifestyle with your children:
    • walk to the store
    • take the stairs
    • garden
    • dance to music
    • rent a canoe or kayak for an afternoon
    • go bowling
    • walk around a museum
    • bike on trails
  • Encourage children to play outside in the winter.
Age Activities
(birth - 1 year)
  • Place the infant on their stomach (on a blanket) and encourage them to move about and explore.
  • Use different play objects to attract their attention and place the objects close by so that they reach or move towards them.
  • Give them objects to hold in their hands to help with grasping and hand control.
  • Interact with the infant by playing peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake.
(1 - 3 years)
  • Use different child-sized equipment, music, body awareness activities and chase games.
  • Encourage the toddler to support weight in their hands to develop upper-body strength.
  • For unstructured play:
    • allow toddlers to freely interact with one another
    • use playground structures
    • play with balls, water and in sandboxes.
  • Give them objects to push, pull, balance on, climb up or jump from.
(3 - 5 years)
  • Allow the preschooler to explore a variety of movement skills individually, with a partner and in a small group (team).
  • Allow the preschooler to play games that are non-competitive and cooperative such as gymnastics, swimming, and dancing.
  • Unstructured activities include:
    • exploring large outdoor toys
    • playground equipment
    • using bicycles
    • walking
Children and youth
(6 - 14 years)
  • Provide children and youth with opportunities which allow them to practice and explore their potential are important to building confidence and interest in physical activity.
  • Consider the three components of fitness when reviewing children and youths activity (endurance, flexibility and strength).
  • Provide both organized and unorganized sport and play.
  • Adopt an active lifestyle philosophy. Active Living is a way of life where being active is natural, and happens everyday.
  • Examples of both organized and unorganized activities:
    • soccer
    • football
    • basketball
    • baseball
    • dance
    • tennis
    • judo/karate
    • gymnastics
    • swimming
    • skipping
    • playing tag
    • walking
    • hockey
    • biking
    • frisbee

Parents: remember to think of safety at all times and ensure that your children and youth are wearing the appropriate sports equipment such as helmets, knee, elbow and wrist pads etc.

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