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Physical activity for toddlers?

family having a stroll with their dog

Key points:

  1. Many children under 5 years old fail to meet the minimum physical activity guidelines, and research suggests they should engage in over 120 minutes of physical activity each day.
  2. Physical activity is essential for toddler development, including the development of large motor skills, balance, and cognitive outcomes such as emotional regulation and spatial intelligence.
  3. Parents should encourage both free play and structured play, take walks with their toddler instead of immediately using a stroller, and have toys that encourage physical activity.

You might be wondering why we’re bringing up the subject of physical activity for kids at such a young age. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), many children younger than 5 years old fail to meet the minimum physical activity guideline of at least 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day, and some of their research suggest that 2 to 5-year-olds should engage in more than 120 minutes of physical activity each day.


Because toddlers can seem to be very active and always engaging in either exploring, eating, or playing, the AAP reports that many parents thought their small children were in no need for a time dedicated specifically to physical activity.

We know that doing physical activity is extremely beneficial and necessary for a toddler’s development. At 2 years of age, kids develop large motor skills, balance, limb coordination, and visual-spatial synchronicity by doing active play either indoors, outdoors, with their parents or peers. Besides, the pros of doing physical activity daily go beyond physical and motor development. Researchers from the Université de Montréal (2008) have found that exercising from an early age enhances cognitive outcomes later in life: it helps to regulate one’s emotions, develop a sense of mastery, better emotional awareness, negotiation skills, and develops a good spatial intelligence.

So, daily active play is very important for the development of your little one. However, you might be wondering how to set some developmentally appropriate strategies for physical activity.

  • If you are out of ideas, ask yourself what physical activities your toddler enjoys and what outdoor playing spaces are available and practical around where you live.
  • Encourage both free play, where your kid can let their imagination steer the activity, and structured play with you, where you play a game that has some directions to it. Some fun options for structured play are playing hide and seek, blowing bubbles and chasing them through the air, pretending to move like different animals, playing “follow the leader”, dancing to some upbeat music, etc.
  • Take walks with your toddler and instead of opting immediately for the stroller, let your kid walk until they are tired.
  • Have toys around that encourage being active while playing like balls, kites, etc.

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