Toddlers don't like to sit still. They wriggle from your
grasp and want to be free. That's tiring for you, but it's
a very good thing for them. Toddlers are naturally driven to do
what is healthiest for them - be as active as possible much of
their waking days.
According to the National Association of Sport and Physical
Education (NASPE), children between the ages of 12 to 36 months old
should get at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity
(adult-led) and at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical
activity (free play) every day. In addition, toddlers shouldn't
be inactive for more than 1 hour at a time, except for
You're in the driver's seat when you're the one
taking care of your child. To limit sedentary time, don't let
your child spend too much time in strollers, car seats, and high
chairs. All these can keep kids from being active enough.
is another good way to help keep your child physically active. TV,
including videos and DVDs, is not recommended at all for kids under
age 2. Those guidelines relax for older toddlers, but kids
to watch any TV. Even educational programs aren't as enriching
as real-life activities, such as figuring out how a toy works,
playing games, or singing songs together.
If you choose to allow some TV time for your older toddler, try
to follow this guideline: No more than 1 to 2 hours of quality
children's programming per day. If possible, choose
noncommercial TV because commercial TV exposes kids to food
advertising, which often pushes low-nutrient snack foods and
drinks. Another option is age-appropriate videos, especially those
that invite kids to play along.
The table below provides some ideas on how a toddler can stay
Younger Toddlers (12-24 months)
- Listen to music and dance together.
- Hold your child's hands while he or she
- Explore the backyard or playground together.
- Climb stairs and use climbing equipment, with
- Use push and pull toys (popcorn popper, play broom,
- Imitate animals or adults at work (mowing lawn,
making dinner, using tools).
- Play with shape sorters and other floor toys.
- Play "Follow the Leader," "Ring Around
the Rosy," and other easy games.
- Play ball.
- Take a mommy-and-me movement class for toddlers.
- Walk like a penguin or imitate other animals.
- Play on a playground or in the backyard, with
- Enjoy imaginative play (playing with toy cars, making
play figures talk, caring for a doll).
- Build with blocks.
- Draw with crayons.
Away From Home
If your toddler spends time with a caregiver or at a childcare
center, it's important to investigate how much activity the
- Do they go outside most days?
- Is there a schedule of activities they adhere to?
- Do they watch videos or TV, and if so, how much and how
Another option is a playgroup, which is a great way to get kids
together for some active time. A playgroup is also a welcome change
of pace for stay-at-home parents, who benefit from the social time
with other moms and dads. The parents could plan some time for
structured group activities, such as playing a game, and let the
kids do their own thing for some of the time. Meeting at a
playground or large, indoor space is ideal.
If you've ever seen a group of toddlers playing, you may
have noticed that they don't seem to be interacting as much as
older kids do. Still, be assured they enjoy this time together.
Eventually, they will start playing in more cooperative ways.
Provide a Safe Environment
Wherever a toddler is being active, the play area must be
. At home, use gates and other safety equipment to make at least
one room in the house safe enough for a toddler to explore. Away
from home, look for childcare facilities and playgrounds that have
newer, age-appropriate equipment that's not too big or
challenging for your toddler. Also, ask about whether kids are
separated by age - a practice that helps prevent injuries.
But no matter how "safe" the environment, there's
no substitute for supervision. Many toddlers seem to subscribe to
the "no fear" philosophy and may climb to the top of the
monkey bars without reservation.
Close supervision is important because even though toddlers show
improving skills, they lack sufficient balance, coordination, and
judgment. In other words, keep a close eye and be there to catch
Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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