It’s that time of year when we are all anxious to get outside and let the children run! Bright, sunny days pop up every so often, but Indiana’s winter and spring specialize in cold and wet forecasts. When gray, brown, cold days keep children indoors, gross motor activities sometimes get pushed to the side. It’s easy to put out the same toys and use the same games every day, but that gets old for everyone. Without active time, children miss out on gross motor development and have a tendency to get restless.
So what’s the solution?
We know that children need to play actively every day. With inclement weather, building time for active play can be difficult. But finding new things to keep children interested is even more challenging. Here are a few key steps for taking that challenge on and succeeding:
- Listen closely to the topics your children are interested in and develop activities around whatever they are talking about.
- Remember that children need to use every part of their bodies to build strength, coordination and confidence.
- Plan well, follow their lead and play with them, and don’t be afraid to go outside with the appropriate attire.
Ideal Amounts of active play and ideas by age
To help you build active time into your daily routine, even in the grossest weather days, check out the guidelines for each age group below.
Infants: brief three- to five-minute play periods with four to six “tummy time” sessions daily.
Start with a couple of minutes and increase the duration as they gain control of their neck and upper body. Be sure to be on the floor with the infant and to make it an engaging, interesting time with safe things to look at and reach for. Minimize the use of bouncy seats, swings and other similar devices.
Toddlers need 60-90 minutes of MVP time – Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity every day.
MVP means that the activity is strenuous enough to increase heart rate and breathing intensity. Of course, with toddlers attention spans, they won’t and can’t get it all in one session! You can break physical activity session into shorter time frames, including both adult-directed time and plenty of child-directed play. One quick way to integrate active play is to incorporate it into transition times. Here are two easy examples: “Let’s hop like bunnies to our circle time,” and “Walk on your tiptoes to see Miss Pam.” Additionally, toddlers enjoy repetitive activities: “Do it again!” Just like with our infants, adults need to be actively engaging with the toddlers and playing along with them.
Preschool children need 120 minutes of MVP daily.
Look at your schedule and plan time indoors and out, including adult-lead and child-initiated activities. Preschoolers need opportunities to practice new skills and build strength and endurance. During active play, they make up their own games and activities, creating their own rules. As adults we need to provide safe areas and equipment that encourage running, jumping, and climbing. An MVP-ready environment also provides children with opportunities to improve balance. When we encourage them to test their limitations physically and try things that are hard, children build confidence, too. As their muscles and coordination grow, our job is to keep up with their needs and provide new and challenging opportunities.
Marta Fetterman leads the Taking Steps to Healthy Success project, designed to increase healthy supports in early childhood and funded by Nemours. She brings decades of experience in curriculum development, technical assistance, workshop facilitation, leadership and stakeholder support to this effort, ensuring a supportive and evidence-based experience for participating child care professionals. Marta also develops partnerships that consistently expand our state’s ability to nurture physical development and nutrition for early learners.