Whether they’re making the leap from walking to running, mastering a tricycle or kicking a big, bouncy ball, toddlers and preschoolers are loaded with energy and love to be on the move. And that’s good news, because an active child can reap the rewards of a strong heart, greater muscle mass, less fatty tissue and stronger bones than kids who are sedentary, according to Mark A. W. Andrews, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, Pa.
That’s why experts recommend that kids ages two and up spend at least 30 minutes a day participating in moderate-intensity activity. For young children, getting the most from physical activity doesn’t require organized sports-just playing and moving around is good exercise. “At this age, kids should focus on general movement and developing skills like running, jumping, throwing, catching and kicking,” says Jack C. Kern, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Engage your two- or three-year-old in a game of tag or hopscotch (these games are ideal for very young children because they don’t have complicated rules). Play Follow the Leader and have her do silly things like touching her nose while jumping in place, take turns kicking or rolling a big, soft ball back and forth or simply turn on some tunes and dance.
For encouraging your four to five year-olds, games like kickball and Red Rover are age-appropriate options. Also, encourage your preschooler to jump rope to improve her overall coordination or toss balls into buckets to boost her throwing skills and hand-eye coordination. The bottom line: Any activity that your child enjoys and that requires movement is a great choice. And your involvement is key-you are your child’s most important role model, so if she sees you active she will be encouraged to keep moving. If you teach your child to associate playing ball with having a ball, you’ll set her up for a lifetime of fun and fitness.