Developmentally Appropriate Ways to Teach Fitness to Young Children in Child Care

Child Care September 26, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

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It seems like young children in a child care program are always in motion. You’d think that most children are active enough to keep themselves fit, but recent research tells us that today’s children are actually not getting enough physical activity. Childhood inactivity can lead to obesity and diabetes. Attitudes toward physical fitness are formed in childhood, and if obesity and inactivity continue into adulthood, there is a serious risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. When kids have a chance to blow off steam with vigorous exercise, they behave better throughout the day.

This is reason enough to include more physical movement in child care programs. The best way to approach fitness for the young child is the developmental way. As children change and grow, they need different fitness activities. An activity that is good for one age may not be good for another.

Birth through Age 2

Make safe places in your child care setting where children can be active and explore naturally. Provide “tummy time” for young infants. This helps them build neck muscles and gets babies ready for crawling. Provide sturdy, stable furniture that children can hold onto as they are learning to stand. Play with babies and toddlers and let them see what they can do. If a ball goes under a table, let the baby crawl to get it for herself. She will build motor skills and feel proud and satisfied.

Ages 2 through 5

Give children in your child care program many chances for active play, both indoors and outdoors. Children of this age seem to have lots of energy, but they do tire quickly. Three to five minutes of exercise that makes them breathless several times a day will be good for their hearts.

Keep the atmosphere positive. Fill activities with fun games and music. Tie the activity to other things you’re doing in child care: Crawl like caterpillars or climb like monkeys when you are learning about them. Games like “duck, duck , goose” are a fun way to get the children moving. Avoid games that involve winning and losing. Children of this age are sensitive to failure and may not like the game because of the competition.

Ages 6 through 8

Running games such as tag and capture-the-flag are exciting and get kids moving. Older children in this age group are ready to begin exploring team sports. Attitude is more important than performance. A positive approach will help children feel good about sports and more likely to remain active throughout their lives. It is natural for children of all ages to be accident-prone, since their motor skills are still developing. Try not to make children worry about getting hurt by being too protective. The goal of playing sports it to have fun, enjoy friends and blow off steam.

Activity Ideas

Here are some great physical activities for children in child care.

Activities for Strength

  • Climbing
  • Balancing
  • Hanging

Activities for Coordination and Body Awareness

  • Dancing
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Hopping
  • Skipping
  • Galloping
  • Sliding
  • Leaping
  • Climbing
  • Forward and backward rolls

Activities for Eye-hand Coordination

  • Throwing and catching and bouncing and dribbling. Try soft balls, bean bags and yarn balls. Experiment with different ways of throwing (overhand, underhand) and different sizes and styles of balls. Use large balls with younger children, and throw the ball right into their laps.
  • Kicking. Use lightweight balls and balloons for kicking and dribbling.

For More Information

To learn more about supporting active play and physical activity in child care, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: