Ideas For How to Plan Physical Activities for Toddlers

Start Planning Physical Activities for Your Toddler

Mom taking picture for toddler girl in park
Images by Tang Ming Tung/Moment/Getty Images

You've probably heard it a million times by now: Childhood obesity is on the rise. Planning physical activities for your toddler can help combat this trend. You may think that toddlers are an exception to the rule, but unfortunately they're not. This increase in heavier tots has even led the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that toddlers at risk of becoming overweight drink 2% milk instead of whole milk at 12 months with a step down to 1% when they turn 2 years old.

Start Now Even if Your Toddler Isn't Overweight

Toddlers are generally an active bunch, but factors like a diet that is high in fats and sugars and low in whole grains and fiber can counteract that natural activity level. Add to that any television time and your toddler might not be getting enough physical activity. So, while most toddlers are not overweight there are still ways that you can instill healthy habits today so that a problem doesn't develop later.

How Much Activity Does My Toddler Need?

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that toddlers get at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day as well as an additional hour or more of unstructured physical activity. They also state that toddlers "should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time except when sleeping." So ask yourself: "Is my child getting that much activity and am I regularly planning games and activities that engage my toddler's large muscles?"

If your toddler is getting enough activity, give yourself a pat on the back and keep up the good work! If not, don't despair. Start now by planning short bursts of activity each day and work up to that daily hour and a half. The best time to start is right now and the best place to start is at the source.

Start By Talking To Your Toddler

If your toddler is talking, start a conversation about some of the things she finds enjoyable. Some vocabulary to use as you're introducing the concept of physical activity to your toddler:

  • Crawl
  • Walk
  • Run
  • Skip
  • Jump
  • Hop
  • Climb
  • Wiggle
  • Dance
  • Race
  • Ball
  • Throw
  • Catch
  • Swing
  • Slide
  • Swim
  • Muscle
  • Legs
  • Arms
  • Exercise
  • Game

If Your Toddler Isn't Talking Much Yet, Rely on Observation

If your toddler is not verbal, think about the physical activities that she's been engaged in previously. What are the things that have made her face light up? What activities did she shy away from? Does she love dancing but hates being in the water? Does she always head for the same piece of playground equipment at the park? Does she like to throw things? Use your observations to brainstorm things that might get her interested in being more active.

Plan Organized Activities

Based on what you've learned about your toddler's likes, dislikes and natural inclinations, start making a plan to incorporate more activity into her day. For example, toddlers that enjoy walking would enjoy things like:
  • A walk around the neighborhood
  • A weekly trip to a local nature trail
  • Regular visits to the zoo
  • A walk in a local cemetery
  • Window shopping at the mall
  • Walking the dog each day

Work in Other Regular Activities that Are Less Structured

Other ways you might modify day-to-day family activities for a child who enjoys walking:

  • Choose parking spaces that aren't right next to store entrances so you can take a stroll through the parking lot.
  • Leave the stroller at home.
  • Don't always let your toddler ride in the cart at the grocery store.
  • Let your toddler perform activities that require walking like delivering clean clothes from your laundry room to other rooms in your home or carrying items from the kitchen to help set the table.

Plan Plenty of Short, Simple Activities

While some level of planning will be helpful toward meeting your toddler's activity needs, know, too, that you don't always need to plan lengthy, complicated activities.

Toddlers have short attention spans so 10 minute bursts throughout the day are perfect. Play with a ball in the yard for 10 minutes before dinner, dance to three songs at random intervals throughout the day, and have your toddler clean up her room. With just those three activities, you're a third of the way to meeting your goal of 90 minutes. And even when planning longer, structured activities take into account the ebb and flow of your toddler's attention level. A long walk can be punctuated with plenty of stops to look at bugs, smell flowers or lay on a blanket and watch the clouds pass. Keep all this in mind when planning so you don't get overwhelmed trying to find 90-minute chunks of time for activity.

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