Physical Activity Through Childhood

baby slaying on stomach

Children at different ages may be at different developmental stages, but no matter your child’s age there are appropriate physical activities. For example, while infants can’t run and play the same way school-aged children can, they can still benefit from “tummy time” and playing with toys that engage their growing muscles and bones.

Structured physical activity is usually led by a parent and promotes development. Unstructured physical activity is child-led. Both contribute to the 60 minutes of recommended daily physical activity. Children of all ages should limit sedentary activity, which is non-moving activity such as using electronics, drawing, and reading.

Here are tips to help your children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily throughout their childhood:

Infants (birth to 12 months)

  • All activity should be supervised by an adult in a safe setting.
  • Tummy time a few times daily for short periods of time while your infant is awake helps them build strength and coordination.
  • Rolling, floor sitting, kicking, crawling, and reaching and grasping for objects all help infants meet developmental milestones.
  • Large, open play areas with equipment like rattles and balls promote physical activity. Place infants on a blanket and allow them to explore nearby toys.
  • Limit time spent in swings, bouncy seats, and other equipment that restricts movement.

Toddlers (1 to 2 years old)

  • Daily outdoor time is recommended with adult supervision.
  • A free space with riding toys, balls, large blocks, tunnels, rocking boats, low climbers, and other toys can encourage physical activity for toddlers.
  • Provide objects to roll, toss, and kick (e.g. beanbags and balls).
  • Play games incorporating music, imitation, and simple directions (e.g. follow the leader).
  • Offer push and pull toys to promote spatial awareness and coordination.
  • Provide activities such as walking a balance beam line on the floor to improve balance.
  • Set up ramps, steps, low climbers, and obstacle courses to build coordination.

Preschoolers (3 to 5 years old)

  • Daily outdoor time is recommended with adult supervision. Try activities such as hopscotch, tricycle motocross, freeze tag, and parachute games.
  • A free space with tricycles, yoga mats, balls, rocking boats, hopscotch, hoops, and other toys can encourage physical activity for preschoolers.
  • Provide activities such as jumping, skipping, and hopping to develop motor skills.
  • Play games incorporating music, imitation, and simple directions (e.g. follow the leader).
  • Provide activities such as walking a balance beam line on the floor to improve balance.
  • Set up ramps, steps, low climbers, and obstacle courses to build coordination.
  • Encourage children to make their own games together.

School Aged (6 years old and older)

  • Daily outdoor time is recommended.
  • Play games incorporating music, imitation, and simple directions.
  • Play games such as finding hidden objects, relay races, obstacle courses, “tag” games, and tug-of-war to build strength and coordination.
  • A free space with climbers, monkey bars, yoga mats, balls, balance beams, rocking boats, hopscotch, hoops, and other equipment can encourage physical activity for school aged children.
  • Provide objects to throw, kick, and catch.
  • Encourage children to make their own games together.
  • School aged children should participate in aerobic physical activity 3 days weekly, muscle strengthening activity (monkey bars, rock climbing walls, etc.) 3 days weekly, and bone-strengthening activity (running, jump rope, hopscotch, etc.) 3 days weekly.

For more information, visit https://www.nemours.org/content/dam/nemours/www/filebox/service/preventive/nhps/paguidelines.pdf.

What other age-appropriate activities can you think of for your children to participate in?


© 2022 North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

North Carolina State University
Agricultural and Human Sciences Department

Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES)