Eating healthy is only one way child care providers can help children maintain a healthy weight. Physical activity is also important. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, children need 60 minutes of unstructured active play,and 60 minutes of structured physical activity each day. Here are some tips child care providers can use to help all children get a healthy amount of physical activity each day.
- Plan regular times for unstructured active play. Young children need plenty of time to run, jump, climb and ride tricycles. Plan at least two outdoor play periods each day, and be sure children have plenty of time outside to be active. Remember that the goal is at least 60 minutes of unstructured, child-directed physical activity each day.
- Set up an active play area indoors. Toddlers need space to climb and jump, even inside. Adding climbing equipment to the toddler room can help encourage active play throughout the day. Preschoolers also enjoy active play spaces such as an indoor gym or large-motor play area. Don't forget that children need opportunities to be active even when the weather prevents going outside. For tips on indoor physical activity, see Keeping Children Active Indoors.
- Include active games. Simple movement activities planned and led by the child care provider are a good way to ensure that children get the recommended 60 minutes of structured physical activity each day. Active games do not need to be complicated. Try a "freeze" dance, a jumping activity, or a simple follow-the-leader game.
- Encourage, but don't force children. Give all children chances to be successful at active games. Encourage everyone to play, but keep it low-key. Allow reluctant children to watch before they join in.
- Emphasize cooperation. Most children under age 5 or 6 are not very competitive. Set up activities that everyone can complete at their own levels of skill, such as an obstacle course. Celebrate with each child when he completes the course. Don't single out one "winner."
- Participate and be a role model. Remember that outdoor play is a part of the curriculum, just as indoor activities are. Don't just sit or stand around during outdoor play or active games! Even if you are not very fit yourself, join in the activity, and encourage children to play with you. Young children learn by watching adults, and following your example may encourage them to be physically active.
For More Information
Active play does not need to be stressful or complicated to be successful. To learn more about ways to encourage both structured and unstructured physical activity in your child care program, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:
- Developmentally Appropriate Ways to Teach Fitness to Young Children in Child Care
- Keeping Children Active Indoors
- Play Activities to Encourage Motor Development in Child Care
- Things to Consider When Planning for Physical Activities in Child Care
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education has more specific physical activity guidelines for children birth - age 5 in their Active Start publication.