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Physical Activities

From birth through age 5, kids’ bodies are growing every day, in every way. Being physically active improves children’s overall health. When they move, kids just feel good.

Move child care activities outside to the playground.

Physical activity also helps children:

  • stay at a healthy weight
  • reduce their risk of feeling stressed or depressed and developing obesity-related illnesses (type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels) 
  • build their strength, flexibility, and endurance
  • enhance their motor skills, social skills, and brain development
  • develop and maintain strong bones
  • sleep better
  • feel confident about themselves and their bodies as they grow

More and more evidence shows that children who are active tend to have fewer behavioral and disciplinary problems, do better in school, and have longer attention spans in class.

Make exercise a daily activity for the kids (and yourself).

Since many children are in child care throughout the week, it’s important for you, as a child care provider, to give youngsters of all ages daily opportunities to be physically active in a safe play space, surrounded by positive and responsive grown-ups like you.

Ways to Keep Kids Moving

Little ones’ routines have to be pretty regimented — for your sake and theirs. Here are some ways to get all of those wiggles and sillies out and keep your kids moving, even in everyday activities:

Fit in fitness.
Include kids' fitness activities into your day-to-day.

Ideally, kids should have two to three active play times every day. But you really don’t have to carve out tons of consecutive time to incorporate physical activity into your routine.

Instead of thinking of exercise as a separate, added activity, just try to weave spurts of movement into other already-scheduled activities during the school day:

  • Have children act out a story as it’s being read to them.
  • Encourage kids to move like different animals during transitions from one activity or room to another (hop like a bunny, walk on all fours like a bear, walk like a crab, swim like a fish, or come up with others).
  • Break the curriculum up a bit by taking breaks during the day and have kids "take 5 or 10" (minutes) to stretch, march around the room, do jumping jacks, or let them choose.

Check out the Healthy Habits for Life Resource Kit (from Sesame Workshop,, and Nemours) for super-fun, simple ideas for working physical activity into your classroom curriculum using Sesame Street characters.

Keep infants active, too.

Babies might not be able to run and play like the "big kids" just yet, but there’s lots they can do to keep their little arms and legs moving throughout the day.

Getting down on the floor to move helps infants:

Babies also need to stay active.
  • explore their environment
  • develop motor skills
  • build strength and coordination
  • increase body awareness
  • learn valuable social skills with their peers
Don’t overuse the baby equipment.

A big part of getting infants the physical activity they need is making sure they’re not kept in any kind of baby equipment for too long. Just try to minimize their time in baby swings, strollers, bouncer seats, and exercise saucers.

Give babies “tummy time” throughout the day.

Infants can explore their world and build their strength and skills through “tummy time” — when they have supervised free play on their bellies in open and safe places. This encourages babies to see, touch, and feel what’s around them.

Letting infants spend time on their stomachs helps them:

  • strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles
  • reach early movement milestones like rolling over, sitting up, and crawling
  • avoid getting a flat head (from laying down too often)

Try to give babies tummy time at least several times a day. To encourage movement, try putting favorite toys just out of reach. Always make sure infants have tummy time when they’re awake and alert (never asleep) — and placed on a solid surface on the floor, never on a surface that’s soft or up high (like a mattress or sofa).

Know the developmental milestones.

When you know what kids should be — and will be — doing at every age and stage, you can help them work on their physical and motor skills as they grow. Check out this chart of developmental milestones from birth to 36 months old.

Be a get-moving role model.
Adults should also participate in kids' fitness activities.

Adults who participate in and seem to enjoy physical activity show kids that being active isn’t something you just have to do — it’s fun.

Tools & Resources

"Go Smart" to Get Kids Moving

On October 1, 2014 the National Head Start Association (NHSA), in partnership with Nike, launched Go Smart to bring movement back into the daily lives of young children. Designed to address the epidemic of physical inactivity, the Go Smart app is a “coach in your pocket” that showcases fun physical activities for children up to age five. Parents, teachers and caregivers can find developmentally appropriate physical activities anytime, anywhere, on any device. Watch video tips, share activities, get updates, track favorites and build “activity boards” to curate games for future play.

More Useful Ideas:

From Nemours and Nemours'

Helpful Videos:

Make time for kids fitness activities.

Aim to:

  • Get 1-2 hours of activity every day.
  • Include outside play whenever possible.
  • Fit activity into daily routines.