As parents, I think most of us would share a similar goal for our children – that they grow up to be as healthy and as happy as they can be. So, we read books to them, we sing songs with them, and we try to get them to eat their veggies (sometimes successfully, sometimes not!!!).

However, what can get missed in our current busy and technologically driven lifestyles are opportunities for active play and physical activity. It seems like the large majority of our kids are missing out on this important part of their childhood development A recent study conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare identified that only 30% of children aged between 2- 17 years meet the national physical activity guidelines.

Why is physical activity and active play so important for children?

Physical activity and active play helps your child to develop their ‘physical competence’. Physical competence is your child’s physical ability to perform 3 main types of fundamental movement skills with confidence and control:

Body management or balance skills: These skills involve balancing the body both when it is still, and when it is moving. This might include balancing on one leg to put their shoes on, being able to stand without falling over when they are on a moving train, or even just bending over to pick up something off the floor without having to hold onto something for balance.

Locomotor skills: These skills involve transporting the body in any direction from one point to another. This might be by creeping on their tummy, walking, running, skipping, or even riding a bike.

Object control skills: These skills involve controlling implements (for example, bats, racquets, or hammers) or objects (such as balls) either by hand or foot.

The benefits of learning and mastering fundamental movement skills can have many physical, social and emotional health benefits for children in both the short and long term. These include:

  • Higher levels of physical activity and physical fitness
  • Improved strength and coordination for everyday tasks
  • Improved posture and flexibility
  • Improved behaviour and ability to focus on activities
  • Enhanced sleep
  • Higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Lower levels of anxiety and depression
  • Improved cognitive ability

If your child can master these movement skills, as they get older they can then go on to being able to learn specialised and complex movement skills used in sports, games, trades, the performing arts, and active recreation activities. Having these fundamental skills sets your child up to lead a happy and healthy life.

So how much physical activity should my child be getting? And what type of physical activity? The amount and type of physical activity your child should be getting will vary according to your child’s age. The following is taken from the Australian National Physical Activity Guidelines for children:

  • Infants (birth – 1 year old): Physical activity, particularly supervised floor-based play, should be encouraged from birth. At least 30 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day during awake periods is encouraged.
  • Toddlers (1-2 years old) and Pre-schoolers (3-5 years of age): 3 hours of physical activity and energetic play, spread throughout the day.
  • Children (5-12 years old) and Adolescents/Young Adults (13-17 years old): At least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Should include a variety of aerobic activities each day, and on at least 3 days per week activities that will help them to strengthen their bones and muscles.

How can I encourage my child to be active?

  • Provide opportunities for your child to play outside so that they have room to move freely
  • Take your child to the park, and let them have a go on any of the playground equipment – the slide, the swings, the climbing ropes and ladders, the monkey bars, the balance beams…
  • Set up obstacle courses in your backyard. You don’t need anything fancy – you can use a plank of wood for a balance beam, a broom stick as a bar to jump over, and an overturned washing basket to step up and down on.
  • Make sure you have balls available for your child to play with. You can practice bouncing, rolling, throwing, catching, passing, shooting, batting (you get the idea…)
  • Imaginative play – get your child to pretend they are galloping around on a horse, get them to crawl like a bear or a cat, get them to jump like a frog or kangaroo, balance on one leg like a flamingo, fly around like an aeroplane, stomp around like a monster. What other imaginative movements can you think of?
  • Teach your child to swim – an essential skill for kids who live in Australia so they are safe in our backyard and outdoor environments.
  • Teach your child to ride a bike – again, a pretty fundamental movement skill in Australia, being able to ride a bike will enable them to participate in riding with their friends and peers.
  • Enrol your child into a physical activity class – for littlies, I personally like ‘Ready, Steady, Go Kids’ because your child gets to try out and learn lots of different types of sports activities and skills. For older children choose an activity they are motivated and interested in participating in (because the best sport or activity for a child is the one they really want to do!).
  • Do physical activities together with your child! Take your child to play at the beach, go for a bike ride together, go for a walk or a run with your child (ParkRun anyone?), play a sport with your child – the options are endless. Participating in physical activity with another person is highly motivating (and you will benefit from the physical activity as well).

If you have concerns about your child’s physical or movement skills, a physiotherapist who works specifically with children may be able to help. Move and Play Paediatric Therapy’s physiotherapists are experienced professionals who work solely with children. Contact Move and Play Paediatric Therapy to find out more on how we can help your child to move and play to the best of their ability.

**I would also like to thank Lively Physiotherapy for the opportunity to write this article for them on behalf of Move and Play Paediatric Therapy.