Toddlers love to try new activities as they grow. Varying the activities you do with them and ensuring they get enough exercise will help them stay healthy and learn new skills.

Activity helps your toddler to…

  • Grow, develop and stay healthy
  • Develop movement, balance and co-ordination skills

Most toddlers are naturally active, but research shows that many are getting less than the Department of Health’s recommended three hours of activity per day. Keeping your child active is a really important part of their growth and development. You may have to plan time for your child to be active if you have a busy schedule.

Your toddler will learn skills if they have someone to copy. So spend some active time with your toddler and help them to learn:

  • to jump, hop, climb on a climbing frame, kick a ball and hit a ball with a bat while they are 2-3 years old
  • to catch a ball, ride a scooter and a two-wheeled bike with training wheels while they are 3-4 years old

If your toddler learns and enjoys using these skills, he/she will be able to keep up with their friends at school and may continue playing games or sport which will benefit their health in later life.

What kind of activities count towards the three hours?

  • Light intensity – activities where your toddler moves a little like painting, drawing, playing board games, singing with actions, messy play, playing in a sand pit and slow walking
  • More energetic physical activity – where your toddler is running, dancing, swimming, playing at a playground and playing outside with friends

Varying the types of activities you do with your toddler will keep you both interested. The overall time spent doing activity is more important than the type of activity you do, although it is good to give your children a mix of activities of different intensities throughout the day.

Keeping you both more active

There are lots of simple ways to keep you and your toddler active. Parking your car a distance away from your destination will mean you have to walk further to reach it, and get you both into the habit of walking. Climbing stairs together may slow you down, but it’s great exercise for your toddler. Think about the journeys you take where you could do without a stroller and let your toddler walk – you can use reins to ensure they’re safe and that you can control them.

Make walking fun

Play a game with your toddler as you walk to keep them interested. You could count something as you go along, like birds or trees, or have a race to a visible landmark. Give your toddler a head start to make the race more fun.

Playgrounds can be great places to take your toddler. You can let them run around, and help them climb and play on the equipment for 20 – 30 minutes. Add a trip to a playground to other journeys to help it become part of your routine.

Being active indoors and outdoors

Simple indoor games such as playing ‘keep it up’ with a balloon, or playing catch with a bean bag will keep your toddler active and entertained. When you have more time you could help build a den, or set up a treasure hunt inside your home. When space is limited, you could dance together to some music or sing songs with actions.

If you have a garden it is easy for your toddler to go out to play. Without a garden you will have to plan to take your toddler out each day to a local playground or a park. Once you’ve found a place where it’s safe to play and you have enough space, you could play hide and seek, chasing games or throw and catch a ball. If it rains, you can still both go out – put on your waterproofs and jump in some puddles! If it snows, dress your toddler up warm and take them outside. You can throw snowballs or make snow angels by lying on your back and moving your arms and legs.

Active play

Different types of active play help toddlers learn in other ways. Messy play helps your toddler get used to putting their hands into different textures, and can help toddlers who are fussy about their food. Pretend play – when a toddler plays with toys and other objects and pretends they are people, helps your toddler learn about the world around them.

Strike a balance

Sedentary activity is when your toddler is lying down or sitting and not moving. Toddlers need such periods of rest interspersed throughout the day and listening to stories and being read to are good for toddlers learning. Sleep is also important for growth and development – a toddler should sleep for about 12 hours in every 24.

However, long periods of sedentary activity such as being strapped into a stroller or a car seat should be minimised. You can plan breaks in long car journeys to allow your toddler to get out and run around. It is also very important to limit the time your toddler spends in front of screens such as a TV or computer, to one hour a day.

Finally, physically active toddlers should be in a safe environment and supervised at all times. Stay safe and have fun!

For more information on how to encourage healthy eating, check out our the NowBaby toddler section.

There’s also further information on healthy eating for toddlers, including practical tips and advice on portion sizes, planning meals, and offering snacks and drinks on the Infant and Toddler Forum website.