Home and Away: How to Keep Toddlers Active
Toddlers don’t like to sit still. They wriggle from your grasp and want to be free. That’s tiring for parents, but very good for kids. Toddlers naturally enjoy doing what is healthiest for them — being as active as possible.
Experts say that kids between 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. And toddlers shouldn’t be inactive for more than 1 hour at a time, except when they’re sleeping.
You’re in the driver’s seat when you’re with your child. To limit sedentary time, don’t let your toddler spend too much time in strollers, car seats, and high chairs. All these can keep kids from being active enough.
Limiting TV time is another good way to keep kids physically active. TV watching, including videos and DVDs, is not recommended at all for kids under age 2. Those guidelines relax for older toddlers, but kids don’t need 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. Another option is age-appropriate videos, especially those that invite kids to play along.
Here are some tips for keeping toddlers active:
|Adult-Led Activity||Free Play|
|Younger Toddlers (12-24 months)||
|Older Toddlers (24-36 months)||
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 kids get:
- 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 often?
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 safe. 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 them!
- Last Reviewed: August 14th, 2014
- Reviewed By: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Zero to Three is a national nonprofit organization that promotes the health and development of infants and toddlers.
The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
Let’s Move! is dedicated to solving the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.