Exercise, along with a balanced diet, helps children to grow and develop, to increase their confidence, learn problem-solving and social skills, and develop lifelong healthful habits. But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, almost half of all American children are not getting enough exercise.

With childhood obesity on the rise, particularly for low-income children, it is important to get children into the habit of being physically active early. Obesity in young children can lead to serious health problems including Type II diabetes, hypertension, and orthopedic problems as well as low self-esteem and behavioral issues.

Please share these tips with parents and caregivers to help them engage in fun, physical activities with their children:

Activities for babies and toddlers:

  • Spread a large blanket on the floor or grass for your baby to stretch and move, roll over, and practice using new muscles.
  • Practice “tummy time.” Put your baby on her tummy two or three times every day for a few minutes each time. Increase the time as baby grows stronger. Tummy time helps your baby to develop upper body strength needed to push up and crawl when the time comes. Be sure that whenever baby is on her tummy, you are with her, the surface is flat, and that she is awake.
  • Crawl with your baby. Encourage your baby’s new crawling skills by getting on all fours and racing or chasing your baby.
  • Roll a ball. Once your baby can sit up, practice rolling a ball back and forth – even if you may be the only one rolling it at first.
  • Encourage your baby to pull himself up on a sturdy piece of furniture (watch for sharp edges) and help him to walk around it.

Once your child is walking:

  • Use push and pull toys. Your child’s coordination will develop with practice.
  • Dance to music. Children enjoy moving to music. When dancing together, offer your child a scarf or a long ribbon.
  • Play follow-the-leader. Make it more interesting by pretending you’re an animal. Let your child be the leader.
  • Have your child walk instead of riding in a stroller or grocery cart whenever practical.
  • Take make believe walks through the snow, in the jungle or other adventurous places – even if you’re just going to the mailbox, make it fun!

Activities for preschoolers:

The National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends that preschoolers get 60 minutes of structured physical activity every day (activity that is organized by you or another adult). It does not have to be all at once – time spent on physical activity should add up to 60 minutes by the end of the day. The NASPE also suggests that children should not be inactive for more than one hour at a time, unless they are sleeping.

  • Encourage your child to play outside when possible. Play tag or chase each other, go to your favorite playground, ride a tricycle, jump rope, or kick and throw a ball.
  • Build an indoor obstacle course. Your child could run or jump through zigzagged shoe boxes, throw a beanbag in a laundry basket, “skate” on paper plates across the floor, or crawl through a large cardboard box.
  • Enroll your child in a dance or tumbling class. First 5 Contra Costa offers free and low-cost sports and dance classes throughout the county.
  • Be a model for your child. Children who regularly see their parents enjoying physical activity are more likely to do so themselves.
  • Limit screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that preschoolers have no more than 1 to 2 hours of total screen time, including TV, videos, video games, and computers, each day. (Children under 2 years old should not watch TV at all.)


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