15 Physical Activities for Preschool Kids
Physical activity is an integral part of a preschooler’s everyday life. Because they are still developing, staying physically active can help boost growth and development and provide many different long-lasting benefits. However, it may be challenging to think of ways to keep toddlers busy every day, so finding new games and activities for them can help parents and teachers keep preschoolers engaged and active.
Why Physical Activity for Preschoolers Matters
Physical activity is essential for healthy brain and body development in toddlers. Because their minds and bodies are still forming, parents, teachers, and guardians can help foster strong and healthy development through physical activities and encouraging toddlers to play outside. Toddlers especially have a lot of natural energy. You can direct that energy through playtime to promote many areas of development, including:
- Motor skills: Preschoolers have more control over their bodies than younger babies, but they are still refining muscle strength and control. Physical activity gives children the chance to grow and expand their skills, especially their fine motor skills, through activities like throwing balls. They can also increase overall motor skills to improve coordination and balance through activities like climbing and jumping.
- Bone strength: Bones are still forming and growing in young children, but physical activity can help. Because bones respond to the level of force they face, more activity leads to stronger bones. For toddlers, activities like jumping and dancing can help increase bone strength.
- Social skills: Playtime is a great opportunity where children learn essential social skills for school and playing with friends. Parents and teachers can teach tools like active listening and following instructions in games. Playing with other children can help them learn to share and respect boundaries. To productively play together or reach a common goal, children need to communicate with each other.
- Memory and concentration: Children’s brains begin forming connections and neural pathways as toddlers, providing them with crucial skills they will need later in life. Games and playtime can help test memory and concentration in children by using games that require them to think, recall, or pay attention to instructions.
Playtime for preschoolers can help develop children’s healthy bodies, minds, and social habits. They can gain skills and healthy habits that will follow them into adolescence and adulthood. Further, playing games is fun, so children create good memories and enjoy themselves in the process.
Best Practices for Toddlers
Preschooler playtime helps toddlers’ brain development, but it is also how they learn. Because children learn through observation and trial and error, playtime can help them learn and test new skills. There are two different ways for children to play to learn and grow skills — structured and unstructured play.
Structured vs. Unstructured Play
Parents and guardians can help guide children through guided playtime, also known as structured play. In structured play settings, children have to follow guidelines, instructions, or premises while playing, and it often takes the form of games or classes. Even though adults often establish the rules or guidelines for structured play, that may be their only role in this playtime — children may play the games together with adults only monitoring or refereeing progress.
Structured play helps teach children various new social skills and rules. Adults guide children through learning new movements, words, games, and skills, and children try to solve problems with help nearby. Structured play creates a safe environment for children to learn new things where adults can answer questions and establish guidelines.
Unstructured play gives children the freedom to play and explore with no restrictions. With unstructured play, children have the freedom to explore their surroundings and create games. Children can play alone during unstructured play or with other children in a group game. As long as the children have control over their playtime, it qualifies as unstructured play.
Unstructured play lets children freely explore the world around them and pursue what interests them, encouraging them to follow their curiosity and let their imagination go wild. Unstructured play typically happens in places where children feel safe and comfortable, creating a place where they can safely explore their emotions and feelings, allowing them to grow emotionally.
Balancing Structured and Unstructured Play
While both structured and unstructured play have benefits, adults need to balance them. Toddlers need around 30 minutes of structured play and an hour of unstructured play each day. Because they have higher energy levels, they can’t go longer than an hour without playing or moving if not sleeping.
Children need structured play to learn, but too much of it can be overwhelming and make them resistant to trying new things. Unstructured play lets children try things independently, but too much freedom can leave them bored. Mixing structure and unstructured playtime for toddlers can help them benefit from both types while keeping them interested.
15 Physical Activities for Preschool Kids
The CDC recommends children between the ages of 3 and 5 stay physically active throughout the day to accommodate growth, development, and high energy levels. Activities should range in difficulty and skill to provide aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities. Adults can choose from several age-appropriate activities to keep children entertained and active throughout the day.
Playing tag is a great way for kids to get physical activity throughout the day. Tag can work as a structured or unstructured game — adults can explain the rules and participate, or children can play it independently. It is common on playgrounds where kids are together for unstructured playtime. Because the rules are simple, even younger children like toddlers can understand and follow the rules. Many versions of tag exist to help make the game more exciting, like freeze tag.
Tag involves a lot of running, which can help provide aerobic and bone-building exercises for children. Since it requires a group to play, children can practice social skills by asking kids to play, respecting boundaries, and being gentle while playing the game.
2. Duck, Duck, Goose
Duck, duck, goose is another classic children’s game many toddlers love. Like tag, it can work as a structured or unstructured game. Many adults use this as a structured game and teach the rules to children, but kids can play themselves without adult supervision. The rules are simple, so it is a popular toddler activity for parents and caregivers.
Though the game is simple, it involves many different skills for children to practice. At the start, children need to sit in a circle, so adults can test how well kids know their shapes with this game, as well as how well they listen to instructions. Children will have to make conscious decisions and think about their actions to choose the next goose. Running and sitting will help improve children’s bone strength, balance, and coordination.
3. Musical Chairs
For a fun structured game to play with preschoolers, musical chairs is a great source of coordination and motor skills for young kids. Adults can practice listening and following instructions with kids by having them assemble the chairs and listen to the game’s rules. They can test their attention throughout the game by seeing who notices when the music stops.
Even though it is a structured activity, children have plenty of room to show their creativity and express themselves. Adults can encourage kids to dance while they move around the chairs to the music or after they get out, which can help build bone strength. When the music stops, children can test their problem-solving skills by finding a chair before they’re all gone.
4. Red Light, Green Light
Like musical chairs, red light, green light is everyday structured physical activity for toddlers. Adults serve as the mediator for the game, teaching children the rule and calling out the instructions. Children can then take over the game by selecting the winner to be the announcer at the beginning of each round.
Red light, green light can help develop balance and coordination as children make quick decisions to stop or start movement. Developing their balance and coordination can help increase their body awareness and control. Red light, green light can also help build critical thinking skills as children try to work towards a specific goal — reaching the announcer first — and make decisions to help them achieve that goal.
5. Freeze Dance
Freeze dance is similar to freeze tag and musical chairs, combining the aerobic movement from tag with the musical element of musical chairs. However, freeze dance lets children express their creativity through their dances and gain better control of their movements, strengthening gross motor skills. Dancing can also improve bone strength, making it an excellent preschooler activity that covers multiple types of exercise for kids.
Like musical chairs and red light, green light, kids can practice their listening skills and follow directions by stopping with the music. They also have to respect other children’s boundaries as they play, careful not to bump into anyone else as they dance around the room. Adults can use this as a structured activity to play indoors or outside.
Adults can use games to help teach children new information or concepts. Hopscotch can help kids learn to count to 10 by pairing counting with hopping through the spaces to make it fun. In addition to counting, children need to balance as they jump from square to square, especially if they hop on one foot. Hopscotch is an aerobic, bone-strengthening activity that can also help improve coordination, motor skills, and concentration.
Children can play hopscotch alone or with a group. After they learn the rules, they can play it individually, allowing it to be structured or unstructured. Since toddlers are new to counting, they may benefit from adult supervision, who can help them when they get stuck and need help with a number.
7. Hit the Balloon
Give your toddlers a balloon and tell them they have to keep it off the ground for as long as possible. Set up for this game is simple and easy because you only need the kids and the balloons.
Kids will have fun coming up with creative solutions to keep the balloon in the air, developing problem-solving skills. Because they have the freedom to choose how they approach the game, they can improve their fine and gross motor skills by hitting the balloon.
8. Toss and Catch
Ball games are significant preschool activities. Because toddlers need to use many different body parts and muscles when playing games with balls, these games can help improve motor skills in many different areas, including the hands, arms, and legs. Throwing and catching balls can help children improve hand-eye coordination and how to better control their bodies.
Playing toss and catch with toddlers is an adjustable game. For younger toddlers, try rolling the ball to one another so the child can get used to directing their muscles towards a common goal. Older kids may want more of a challenge, so throwing and catching may be the better option for them. Adults can add more elements to games, like teams, baskets, goals, and other rules to further challenge and test preschoolers’ skills.
Another alternative to rolling balls is to recreate bowling with foam balls and bottles or cans. Some children may already understand or know of bowling, so they enjoy playing it at home or school where they usually can’t. Set up for this game is easy — determine a starting point where kids can line up and wait to roll the ball and arrange bottles, cans, or other pin substitutes a few feet away.
Like other ball games, bowling can help develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination in preschoolers. It makes a great structured group game that children can learn about waiting in line, listening to directions, and counting the number of pins they knock over.
Kickball can be a great structured group game for older preschoolers with more control over their bodies. Since kickball incorporates running and kicking, it can help preschoolers practice coordination and balance while stimulating muscle and bone growth. Running can also challenge them aerobically.
Adults can split preschoolers into teams to make the game more challenging and to help them develop teamwork and communication skills. Children have to work together towards a common goal, and they can learn how to do that in a safe, fun environment with adults nearby to help facilitate learning.
11. Riding a Tricycle or Scooter
Including toys like tricycles and scooters in playtime can benefit preschoolers. Riding a tricycle or scooter can help improve bone and muscle strength and provide good aerobic exercise. While kids can independently play with these toys in unstructured playtime, they may need to practice listening and following directions to keep themselves and others safe, like wearing a helmet or not crashing into other children.
Because this is often an unstructured play activity, children can use their time on scooters or tricycles to reflect quietly on their days or expand their imaginations and creativity to make fun games or scenarios. Depending on the rules of using tricycles or scooters, children may race or play pretend when riding the toys.
12. Simon Says
While many games like musical chairs or freeze dance may require adults to lead the game, Simon says is an excellent game for kids to lead themselves. Adults may have to explain the rules or demonstrate how to play, making it a great choice for structured play, but kids can play it together without adult supervision.
Simon says will help develop listening comprehension skills as kids translate commands to various movements. They will have to actively listen for the speaker to say the command correctly before deciding to move. They strengthen their balance, coordination, and muscles by holding different poses. Kids can even put their creativity to use by coming up with various commands for their friends and classmates to try.
13. Obstacle Course
For an activity that challenges your toddlers’ strength and mind, try building an obstacle course. Create a unique course every time to keep kids entertained and fit their skill levels. With an obstacle course, children can test and strengthen many skills they are still developing, like muscle strength, coordination, balance, and problem-solving.
Obstacle courses challenge kids to work towards a single goal and direct their actions towards achieving it, whether getting to the other side of the course or getting a specific item along the way. You can change the rules and the goals as you play it with your preschoolers to keep them engaged and further develop their problem-solving skills.
14. Scavenger Hunt
Keep kids engaged with their environment and surroundings by staging a scavenger hunt. Especially when hosted outside, kids can improve their coordination and balance as they search through their terrain to find the objects they are looking for. Children can practice problem-solving and active listening as they ask for hints and listen to clues about where to find what they are looking for.
Like obstacle courses, scavenger hunts can change every time you play, making them great repeat games for preschoolers.
15. Playing on the Playground
One of the most common spaces for unstructured play is on the playground. Adults can easily supervise as children play while keeping their distance and letting them dictate their free time. Children can choose from various ways to play, whether playing a game they already know or using their imagination to create new scenarios and situations to act out.
Regardless of how children play, the playground is where many children feel comfortable exploring their environment and creativity during unstructured playtime.
The Benefits of Physical Activities for Preschoolers
While playing is fun for toddlers, it also provides essential physical activity, which benefits them in many different ways, including:
- Reduce the risk of health conditions: When children exercise, they can help maintain healthy bodies and reduce the risk of developing obesity or type 2 diabetes. Children can build a healthy relationship with exercising, ensuring they keep good habits to keep them healthy as they grow older.
- Learn social skills: Playing is a good way for kids to communicate and act around other kids and adults. They can learn social cues to help them become better communicators and team workers. Many kids will play with their friends, giving them a sense of belonging.
- Improve sleep: Especially with toddlers with a lot of energy, regular physical activity can help improve their sleep schedules, so they stay asleep for longer and sleep more deeply. They can feel more rested when they wake up and feel ready to continue playing.
Learning healthy habits and skills as toddlers can help set children up for their futures to remain healthy, active, and happy into later childhood and their teenage years.
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