12 Physical Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

physical activities for toddlers and preschoolers

Physical activity is an essential component of overall health and wellness, especially for young children. Regular physical activity offers short- and long-term benefits for their physical and mental health, including:

  • building confidence
  • reducing risk of disease
  • building stronger bones and muscles
  • increasing energy
  • decreasing stress levels

Exercise is essential for people of all ages, so we need to be educated on the benefits of exercise and how to incorporate daily physical activity as early as possible.

Early childhood services and childcare should include physical activity play as a key component of a child’s development. Services should offer play-based activities and games that combine physical activity with a child’s interests and abilities.

Read the full article or jump to different physical activities for kids to play in early years:


Why Is Physical Play for Toddlers and Preschoolers Important?

Why Is Physical Play for Toddlers and Preschoolers Important?

Children have high levels of energy that they need to expend, and the benefits of physical play are critical to a child’s physical and mental development. Children who are physically active tend to do better in school, have longer attention spans and have fewer behavioral problems. Being physically active also helps children to:

  • Develop strong bones.
  • Develop gross and fine motor skills.
  • Build strength, endurance and flexibility.
  • Build confidence.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Decrease stress levels.
  • Improve social skills.
  • Improve balance and coordination.
  • Improve posture.
  • Improve concentration.
  • Improve sleep.

Lack of or not enough physical activity can cause several health issues for young children. A lack of exercise can lead to weight gain or excessive body fat, high blood pressure, bone health problems and cardiovascular diseases. Active children tend to have fewer chronic health issues, are less likely to get sick and have a greatly reduced risk of developing diseases or illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and depression.

Being physically active now will benefit children throughout their lives, so integrating exercise into a young child’s everyday routine is crucial. If you’re wondering how to promote physical activity in early childcare years or need ideas for physical games and activities for preschoolers in the classroom, read on for some ideas!

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Best Practices & Activities for Toddlers

Best Practices and Activities for Toddlers

Toddlers should be engaged in active play for at least 90 minutes a day. When awake, they shouldn’t be inactive for more than an hour at a time, and ideally, adults should make time for both indoor and outdoor playtime and structured and unstructured activities.

Structured Activities

Structured playtime involves pre-planned, teacher-led activities. Every activity should be:

Activities should keep every child moving. Avoid games that eliminate children from the activity, so they don’t become inactive.

Unstructured Activities

Free play is a time for toddlers to be creative and participate in the activities that interest them. During this time, teachers should remain peripherally involved by encouraging children to stay engaged in physical activity play, but they should also give children the space to be active in their individual interests.

Take advantage of outdoor physical activities for toddlers as often as possible and incorporate equipment to get children staying active while having fun. If outdoor playtime isn’t feasible, use spaces like a school gym, extra room or local YMCA to let children be active.

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Creating a Safe Environment for Physical Play

Before you begin planning activities for your preschoolers to play, you will need to create a safe and productive environment. Since children need structured and unstructured play, you can create a zone that can serve both. They can explore and play when it’s time for unstructured play in a space where they already feel comfortable and familiar.

Toddlers especially are in an exploratory period where many things pique their interest. However, they also have a unique way of exploring the world. Many toddlers will follow their curiosity and questions by putting things in their mouths, tossing toys around or testing the boundaries and limits of their environment and body. You can create a safe environment where toddlers can still follow their curiosity by:

  • Going by their height: When adults set up play spaces for toddlers, it’s easy to cater to adult proportions and forget what the world looks like from a toddler’s height. Toddlers might be interested in items placed in higher spaces, leading them to try and climb to reach them. They can also fall or have organizers fall on them, potentially leading to injuries. Instead, try moving through your play space at their height by crawling or walking on your knees, which can help identify spaces that might tempt their curiosity.
  • Considering furniture placement: As you set up your play area, consider how you place furniture and the overall layout. Because toddlers are still developing general and fine motor skills, they may have difficulty navigating tight spaces. However, a large open space may encourage running, leading to trips and collisions. Instead, you can use bookshelves, toy organizers and other larger furniture items to divide the room into smaller play areas. You can move some furniture around to create large temporary spaces for group activities.
  • Organizing toys conveniently: You can help encourage exploration and independence in your preschoolers by organizing play items where they can easily access them. You can use open bins where children can sort through items they want to play with and keep utensils on low tables in cups or trays. Giving children easy access to toys can help them explore what they like and dislike to play with independently without asking for help.

By creating an environment with toddlers’ goals and actions in mind, you can allow them to explore and play in safe ways and add to their mental, physical and social development.

Indoor and Outdoor Physical Activities for Toddlers

Kids ages 1 to 3 are active, and they may like to walk, run, throw, kick and move, so they need to learn how to develop their motor skills while burning off their energy.

Physical activities for toddlers should use gross motor skills, which means using their major muscles in body parts like their legs and arms to do things like run, jump, spin and climb. Toddlers are just beginning to learn these movements, so give children plenty of practice with them through physical games and activities.

If you need physical development and active play ideas for toddlers in your care, check these out:

1. Row, Row, Row Your Boat

This indoor physical activity is great for toddlers’ physical development and socialization with no equipment necessary. In this exercise, children sit facing a partner with feet touching. They hold hands and lean forward and backward while singing the classic, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

2. Musical Hide and Seek

Play music from a phone and hide it from the children. You and the children can then search together to figure out where the music is coming from. This activity will be fun for the toddlers and will get them moving.

3. Build a Tower

For this activity, you’ll need a supply of blocks, containers with lids or another similar, stackable object. Using your item of choice, build a tower with a child. Take turns adding blocks or containers to the tower and see how high the child can stack them. You can count the number of stacked items together, and then when the tower is complete, the child can knock it down.

4. Toss Balls in a Basket

Give toddlers foam or rubber balls to roll back and forth to a partner. Older toddlers can toss the balls into a basket. During this activity, exercise caution with younger children who might bite foam balls. Avoid small balls that toddlers could put in their mouths and swallow.

5. Throw Sponges

This activity is great for a hot day. Children take wet sponges and toss them toward a container or bin. They can compare how far they can throw sponges of different sizes can be thrown or how different amounts of water affect the distance the sponge travels.

Imitate Animals

6. Imitate Animals

While on their hands and knees, toddlers move, stretch and play like animals. They can hop like a frog or waddle like a penguin. They can arch their backs, roll on their backs, reach as high as they can and walk on all fours. Choose a variety of animals and movements to keep children engaged and using their whole bodies to stay active.

7. Traffic Safety

Cut three circles from colored paper –– one red, one yellow and one green. Label the red circle “Stop,” the yellow circle “Slow” and the green circle “Go.” Choose one child is chosen to be the traffic light, and they will hold up the green circle, the yellow circle and the red circle in turn.

The other children move forward when “Go” is held up, slow down when “Slow” is held up and freeze when “Stop” is held up. Take advantage of this fun active play idea to also teach toddlers about traffic safety.

8. Snake Dance

In this indoor physical activity, toddlers form a line to make a snake. They place their hands on the shoulders of the child in front of them, and the first child or the teacher leads them around the room or play area.

To make things a bit more exciting and challenging, the child at the front of the line can try to tag the child at the end. This will get kids moving faster!

9. Catching Feathers

Take feathers and toss them into the air for children to catch with their hands or in containers before they reach the ground. This will get toddlers moving and having fun!

If children are old enough, they can also each be given a feather and try to keep the feather in the air by blowing on it.

10. Follow the Leader

Stand in front of the children and tell them to watch you carefully and copy your moves. Touch your nose, hop on both feet, stomp in a circle or crawl on all fours. Choose simple actions and use large motor activities.

Hit The Balloon

11. Hit the Balloon

Encourage toddlers to keep a balloon from touching the ground by hitting it with their hands. You can also place an item between two children, such as a chair or pillow, and instruct them to hit the balloon over the barrier to the other child. Chasing balloons allows children to run, zigzag and hop to keep up with the object while maintaining their balance.

12. Feed the Lion

On a cardboard box, draw or paint a lion’s head and cut a hole for the lion’s mouth. Children will take crumpled paper balls and try to toss them into the lion’s mouth. Afterward, children can count how many balls they fed the lion.

These games and activities will keep your toddlers engaged and have fun while active!

Best Practices & Activities For Preschoolers

Best Practices for Preschooler Activity

Preschoolers should be physically active for two hours or more each day. It’s best to incorporate playing both indoor and outdoor games, like Duck, Duck, Goose or Musical Chairs into a preschooler’s day, along with structured and unstructured activities, such as running or jumping.

Physical activities led by adults should be planned ahead of time and engaging for preschoolers. Similar to playtime for toddlers, structured activities should be vigorous, inclusive of all children, aid physical development, and support the development of children’s motor skills. Activities should keep every child moving for the duration of the activity, so try to stick to games that include all children at all times.

Indoor and Outdoor Physical Activities For Preschoolers

Preschoolers, who are 3-5 years old, enjoy activities with more coordination, such as riding a tricycle, swimming or playing tag. Here are outdoor and indoor preschool fitness ideas, games and developmental activities geared toward preschoolers:

1. Duck, Duck, Goose

This indoor physical activity is perfect for preschoolers, particularly for those 4 years old and up. No equipment is necessary, and there really isn’t a limit on the number of players you need, though you’ll probably want at least four.

In Duck, Duck, Goose, children sit in a circle facing one another. One person is “It,” and they walk around the circle, tapping the heads of each player and calling each of them “Duck” until they call one player “Goose.” “Goose” will then stand from the circle and chase after “It” around the circle. “It” needs to reach the spot where “Goose” had been sitting before “Goose” catches them.

If “It” reaches the spot before getting tagged, “Goose” becomes “It.” If “It” gets tagged before reaching the spot, they sit in the middle of the circle until a new “It” is tagged.

Duck, Duck, Goose is great for getting kids moving quickly!

Musical Chairs

2. Musical Chairs

Use an adapted, no-lose version of this activity to keep all children up and moving while having fun. Place chairs in a row or in a circle facing outward. Play a song or have the children sing a short rhyme while circling the chairs. When the song is over, the children sit in the chair closest to them.

Continually change the movement with each new song, such as skipping, hopping or crawling to keep kids engaged and active.

3. Huckle Buckle Beanstalk

Children can play this game indoors or outdoors, although playing outside will definitely make for a bigger challenge! To start, children will form a circle and pick one person to stand in the middle of the circle. The person in the middle of the circle will choose an object to show to the others in the circle. Then while the other players have their eyes closed, the player in the middle will hide the object, return to the middle of the circle, and say “Huckle Buckle Beanstalk” to start the game.

All of the other players will search the area for the object. When they find the object, they’ll return to the circle and whisper, “Huckle Buckle Beanstalk.”

To play a no-lose version of this game, either wait until every player has found the object or start over once the first player finds the object. This way, every child can keep playing, and no one has to sit out.

4. Please, Mr. Crocodile, May We Cross the River?

Also shortened to Please, Mr. Crocodile, this is a fun, exciting game that requires no equipment and is a great preschool fitness idea.

All of the players stand beside each other on one side of the room or play area. Choose one of the players as Mr. or Ms. Crocodile, and they stand in the middle of the room. The players call, “Please, Mr. Crocodile, may we cross the river? If not, why not? What’s your favorite color?” Mr. Crocodile announces a color, and all the players wearing that color are safe to cross to the other side of the room past Mr. Crocodile.

After those players have crossed to the other side, the players who are not wearing the color Mr. Crocodile called out then try to run to the other side of the room without getting caught by Mr. Crocodile. Whoever gets caught becomes the next Mr. Crocodile.

5. What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf?

This game is similar to Please, Mr. Crocodile, so if the kids enjoyed that game, be sure to try this one!

As with Please, Mr. Crocodile, all the players stand next to each other in a line. Mr. or Ms. Wolf is chosen and stands at least 10 feet away with their back to the other players. The players in line chant, “What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?” Mr. Wolf calls out a time, and the other players move forward the same number of steps. For example, if Mr. Wolf calls out six o’clock, the players move forward six steps.

This continues until the players once again ask, “What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?” and Mr. Wolf changes his response to, “Dinnertime!” All of the players will then turn around and run back to the starting point while Mr. Wolf chases after them. Whoever the wolf catches becomes the next Mr. Wolf.

Balance Beam

6. Red Light, Green Light

Preschoolers line up side by side facing either a teacher or another player. The teacher stands on the other side of the room or space, facing the players. The teacher calls, “Green light!” Players run toward the teacher until the teacher yells, “Red light!” Then the players must freeze where they are.

The game continues until the players reach the teacher, and then the game starts over.

You can also include handheld signs that represent a green light and a red light for the teacher or child to hold up during the game.

7. Freeze Dance

Play a song for kids to dance to. Whenever you pause the song, they have to freeze in place. Kids will have fun dancing, and they’ll also develop skills for self-regulation, similar to games like musical chairs.

8. Bowling

Select items that are easy to knock over, like empty water or soda bottles, and set them up like pins in a bowling alley. Children can roll a ball toward the pins and see how many they can knock down. Have preschoolers count how many pins they managed to knock down. Let them roll a second time as they would in a real bowling alley. If they want, they can also write down their scores.

9. Hopscotch

While outdoors, take some chalk to a sidewalk or blacktop to draw blocks for your game of hopscotch. This game will get kids hopping, balancing and counting. You can also adapt this hopscotch game to be an indoor activity by using tape to set up your squares.

Jumping on Trampolines

10. Jumping on Trampolines

For kids who are old enough, find an indoor trampoline park where they can go to jump on trampolines and hang out with their friends. Trampolines are a ton of fun and a great activity for some high-intensity exercise and improving balance. For children who are too young for a trampoline park, you can buy a trampoline for home that’s equipped with the right safety features to keep kids safe while they’re having fun.

Here are a few movements you can instruct them to perform:

  • Hop

  • Clap

  • High knees

  • Arm circles

  • Jumping jacks

  • Lunges

  • Kick

  • March

  • Wiggle

  • Side shuffle

  • Skip

  • Stomp

  • Twirl

  • Touch toes

  • Fly like a bird

  • Stretch arms up high

11. Jump Over the River

If outdoors, you can use chalk to draw two parallel lines about a foot apart to create a river. Instruct children to jump over the river by bending at the knees, extending their arms behind their backs, and swinging their arms forward when they take off and land on their feet on the other side. If indoors, use tape to create your river instead.

These are just a few of many activities and games that can get preschoolers moving and having a blast!

12. Field Day

Little Girls on Field Day

The ultimate activity for preschoolers isn’t just one game — it’s a whole day of different physical activities for kids! Plan a field day with multiple activity stations full of movement and fun. This preschooler activity idea is adaptable for indoor or outdoor play and can be as complex or simple as you want to make it. You can use items from around the house, purchase some cheap supplies or select activities that only require the participants.

Have a timer on hand to keep the fun moving and ensure everyone gets a turn at each station. Now you’re ready to let the games begin! Check out these ideas for activity stations and choose several different physical activities for kids that your children would enjoy:

  • Animal race: In this silly race, kids have to make it to the finish line while imitating an animal. Kids can do the crab walk, hop like a rabbit, waddle like a duck and more.
  • Bowling: Find filled water bottles, empty food storage containers, plastic cups or other items that a child can easily knock over with a ball. Have kids line up along a piece of rope, yarn or tape and then see who can knock over the “bowling pins” the fastest.
  • Cup stacking: Gather some empty plastic cups for this fun activity that challenges kids’ hand-eye coordination. Set a timer and see how fast kids can stack cups on a mat in a set structure. Choose a cup structure appropriate to the children’s skill level, like a pyramid tower five cups high.
  • Obstacle course: Turn your field day into a giant obstacle course or use obstacle course activities at independent stations. You can have children jump through hula hoops on the ground, crawl through a tunnel of boxes and hop between shoes — the options for your activity stations are nearly endless!
  • Exercises: You can also create an activity station with simple exercises that don’t require any equipment. Have different stations for kids to do jumping jacks, toe-touches and more.
  • Cleanup race: The cleanup race makes the perfect final activity station for your field day. Plus, it gives you a breather after a busy day of fun. Have plastic bins at the ready and give everyone a time limit for picking up the field day supplies.

Get Active With Playworld

Get Active With Playworld

Outdoors is the best place for children to be active. While children can engage in physical activities and games indoors, these activities tend to be lighter in intensity than outdoor activities. Playgrounds provide an excellent opportunity for outdoor physical activity for toddlers, preschoolers and young children. Kids will have fun, expend energy and develop their gross and fine motor skills all at once. On a playground, they can climb, jump and swing while having fun with their friends.

Playworld has been providing kids with playgrounds for decades. We know physical activity play is essential in early childhood education and development, and we want to help the kids in your housing development and neighborhood have fun, get active and be healthy. With us, you can trust that kids are getting safe, quality physical activity while they’re having fun. Contact Playworld to get the playground your kids need.

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