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Physical Activity and Your Toddler

During the toddler developmental years, manipulative, locomotor, and non-locomotor skills begin to emerge. These fundamental skills are the prerequisites for more complex skills of later childhood and adulthood. Recent research suggests that if children do not master these fundamental motor skills during childhood, they may be less physically active as an adult.

Toddlers should have access to stimulating environments that engage the toddler in movement activities and movement experiences. Due to the crucial role physical activity plays in skill development, it is important to follow the 5 recommended physical activity guidelines from the National Association of Sport and Physical Education for toddlers (1-3 years old) discussed below:

Guideline 1: Toddlers should engage in a total of at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day.

Guideline 2: Toddlers should engage in at least 60 minutes—and up to several hours—per day of unstructured physical activity and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, except when sleeping.

Guideline 3: Toddlers should be given ample opportunities to develop movement skills that will serve as the building blocks for future motor skillfulness and physical activity.

Guideline 4: Toddlers should have access to indoor and outdoor areas that meet or exceed recommended safety standards for performing large-muscle activities.

Guideline 5: Those in charge of toddlers’ well-being are responsible for understanding the importance of physical activity and promoting movement skills by providing opportunities for structured and unstructured physical activity and movement experiences.

To summarize these guidelines in a simpler format, toddlers should be provided with plenty of safe opportunities to engage in physical activity. They should have many opportunities for both structured (parent or caregiver initiated) and unstructured (child-initiated) physical activity. For example, structured physical activity ideas might include: musical instruments, rhythmical tapes, and acting out imaginative poems or stories. Unstructured physical activity examples include: grasping large balls, riding tricycle, digging, building, playing in sandbox, playing on playground equipment, and playing with peers.

Check out Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s publication Getting Young Children Ready to Learn for daily activities and interactions that develop large and fine muscle skills, or We Have the Moves physical activity resource for some great activity ideas.

Find more tips for busy parents at South Dakota State University Extension.