Encouraging healthy behaviors early in their children's lives is a priority for many parents and with good reason. Physical inactivity in children negatively affects almost every aspect of their development. Childhood obesity affects about 13.7 million children in the United States, a figure that has only grown in the last two decades. The earlier habits of physical activity and a balanced diet are instilled, the higher the odds are that they result in lifelong healthy habits.
As a child care provider, program manager or child care facility director, promoting physical activity in your daycare is essential. Not only is it beneficial for the child, but parents will also be thrilled. In fact, many of them will likely inquire about how you keep the children moving and what your program is for physical activity. It is better to be prepared than to give a half-hearted answer when you are asked that question.
There may be a lack of information regarding the comprehensive benefits of physical activity for children. It can also be difficult to implement effective programs and policies that promote physical activity in child care facilities, specifically those aimed at toddlers and younger children.
Why is Physical Activity Essential for Children?
With 18.5% of children and adolescents touched by childhood obesity, the call for physical activity has never been more amplified. Regular exercise is at the crux of promoting overall well-being and establishes healthy habits from a young age. Helping children be physically active comes with many more upsides.
For one, healthy play is essential for a healthy child. It aids in intellectual development, social development, emotional development and physical development. Play and physical activity go hand-in-hand. Through play, children learn vital motor skills such as hand-eye coordination. Moreover, it’s possible to implement age-appropriate learning into games, such as directing a child to run to the “red square.”
Physical inactivity can also lead to health consequences. Without expending the calories that they take in through physical exercise, children are prone to energy imbalance which results in excessive weight gain. The risk of heart disease increases, along with the risk of diabetes, low bone density, and adult development of cancers. Those are some pretty stark downsides and can be easily avoided by simply incorporating physical activity.
Moreover, parents expect their children to move and get physical activity in while they are at daycare. It’s a duty and responsibility to both the child and the parents. Incorporating active play into the routine at your daycare comes with countless advantages for toddlers, the tricky part comes when thinking of how to incorporate it.
Helping children be physically active does not have to be a daunting task. In fact, much of the suggested activities we suggest require little to no material or monetary investment to incorporate. It’s simply a matter of ensuring that you are proactive, as opposed to reactive when it comes to scheduling playtime.
How to Promote Physical Activity in a Child Care Program
Planning regular intervals of unstructured playtime for toddlers in daycare is a good place to start. Children certainly need time and room to climb, jump, skip, run, or otherwise move around. When scheduling, consider planning two or more blocks for outdoor playtime. The recommended total is 60 minutes of physical activity per day, so if you split those up into shorter blocks, you can spread out the fun.
However, physical activity for toddlers in daycare needn’t just take place outside. An indoor play area can do wonders for increasing the time spent moving and physically active. Investing in climbing equipment can encourage indoor active play. Additionally, this acts as a safeguard should the weather in your area be too cold, wet or otherwise bothersome for outdoor play.
Physical activity can also be incorporated by initiating active games, such as “follow the leader,” or a jumping game. Moreover, when initiating such active games, gently encourage all children in your daycare to participate. However, refrain from forcing them. If reluctant toddlers prefer to watch before joining in, give them the time to do so.
Another idea would be to set up an obstacle course that has different activities allowing each child to compete on their level of ability. This allows for shared enjoyment and a bit less competition.
Physical Activities in Child Care Programs
When thinking of preschool physical activities, there are countless ideas to incorporate. Younger children in child care programs can enjoy many activities, and most of them do not require much, if any, equipment. Here are some examples of easy active play ideas that will get your daycare moving and laughing.
“Row Your Boat”
Named after the classic children’s song, “Row, row, row your boat,” this indoor exercise requires no equipment. Children will sit with their feet touching those of their partner. Then, they hold hands, leaning forward and backward as they sing “row, row, row your boat.”
Play music from a phone or another device, but make sure to hide it well. Then, task the children to find the phone by following the sound. This both engages them physically and intellectually.
Speaking of music, musical chairs is another great way to get kids moving. Beware, however, as it tends to get competitive and may raise emotions to a level you did not intend for.
A surefire way to get children moving is by asking them what their favorite animal is, and then circling up and having everyone act out the animal’s behavior.
“Hit the Balloon”
The point of the game is to not let the balloon touch the ground. Children are encouraged to hit the balloon to keep it in the air.
It’s no secret that physical activity is crucial for people of all ages. However, it’s sometimes harder for children to get the physical and mental stimulation they need. Children, especially toddlers, are often bundles of energy bouncing around from one room to another. This energy needs to be spent, whether it’s jumping on the couch at home or having an organized playtime session with other children at daycare.
Many parents choose the latter. That’s why it’s crucial for your daycare program to emphasize and promote physical activity for all ages, even those that still require diapers. Though it may be challenging to get a group of toddlers involved in an organized game, the benefits will last a lifetime.
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