Physical activity at daycare: help kids move more!

What exactly do we mean when we talk about physical activity at daycare and preschool? How do you know if you provide enough of the “right” kind of opportunities to help kids get moving? What can you do to encourage more active play?

In short, aim for a wide variety of activities that get all kids moving at the same time. Sprinkle activities throughout the day in age-appropriate lengths of time.

Preschool children playing in a field

How much?

There is some variation in recommendations for children five years and under. We often refer to the best practice of 120 minutes per day, recommended by the National Assocation for Sport and Physical Education, knowing that this is more than the “1 hour” recommended for ages 6 to adult.

Two hours may sound like a lot, but activities usually take place in small bursts throughout the day (3-15 minutes) and include both inside and outside play.

Tip: Replace non-essential screen time with active play. Learn more.

Variety matters

Physical activity is really active play for children, not necessarily the “exercise” that we think of as adults. Walking, skipping, jumping, dancing, marching…these are all excellent forms of physical activity.

See also: Encourage active play every day

Children should have a balance of both structured and unstructured physical activity. Structured activity—led by teachers or caregviers—might include bean bag games, follow the leader, or musical chairs. Unstructured physical activity is play initiated by the children themselves—riding a toy or bike, playing tag, or climbing on the playground, for example.

Children holding hands playing inside

Children should experience both moderate physical activity—activity that children can easily do that makes the heart rate and breathing rate increase a little bit, such as walking and dancing—and vigorous physical activity—activity that quickly makes children tired and heart and breathing rates increase a lot, such as running and jumping rope.

Role model

Teachers and caregivers have a lot of influence on children, often without even realizing it. When children see teachers participating in physical activities—dancing to a song or joining a game of Four Square, for example—they learn that physical activity is a natural and enjoyable part of every day.

Best Practices Checklist for Physical Activity

  • At least 120 minutes of active play per day
  • Includes some structured activities led by adults
  • Includes unstructured activities determined by kids
  • Includes at least 60 minutes of outdoor play, weather permitting
  • Equipment is visible and accessible to children
  • Teachers and volunteers are dressed for movement
  • Teachers and volunteers actively participate and encourage movement
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