The joy of being active

Crawling, walking, running, jumping: children love to move. Moving keeps our bodies healthy and just feels good. That’s why it’s important to get your child in the habit of being active while having fun from a young age. How do you do it? Follow our guide!


Get moving, get playing!

Crawling, walking, running, jumping: children love to move. Moving keeps our bodies healthy and just feels good. That’s why it’s important to get your child in the habit of being active while having fun from a young age. How do you do it? Follow our guide!

By Julie Leduc

Physical activity supports child development. And it’s easy to get a toddler moving—just ask Karim Kammourieh, whose son Louaï will be turning 2 soon. “He’s a naturally active kid,” he says. “Nothing makes him happier than running, playing with a ball, or going to the park!”

Move as often as possible

From the first few months of life, babies should be moving several times a day. For example, when your baby plays on the floor or has tummy time, they’re being physically active. “When children move, they develop their senses, learn about their body, and explore their environment,” explains Félix Berrigan, a human kinetics professor at the Université de Sherbrooke. “Gradually, they also develop motor skills such as crawling, pulling, pushing, and walking.”

Starting at the age of 1, it’s recommended that young children get at least 3 hours of physical activity a day, according to the Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines. Starting at age 3, this active time should include at least 60 minutes of vigorous play per day—activities that get your child warmed up and raise their heart rate (e.g., dancing, running, tumbling, jumping).

“It can sound like a lot,” admits occupational therapist Noémie Lafortune. But it doesn’t have to be done all at once. “Every little bit counts. When your child’s goofing around running from the living room to the front door, that’s physical activity,” she says. And don’t forget about what they do at daycare!

Lastly, avoid letting your child stay seated for more than an hour at a time, for example in a car seat or stroller.

Benefits from early childhood

Physical activity helps your little one improve their endurance, balance, and coordination. “It also helps with posture and developing and strengthening muscles and bones,” says Peggy Gendron, a kinesiologist and creator of active games to get kids moving. Physical activity is also essential for proper brain development, starting at an early age. It contributes not only to your child’s physical development, but also to their social, emotional, and intellectual development.

Moving also allows your child to burn off energy and release tension, which can help relieve stress and anxiety. “Physical activity stimulates the secretion of hormones that help children calm down and be more receptive to learning,” adds Gendron. Marilène Provencher observed this in her almost 3-year-old son. “When he’s had an active day, Colin can stay focused during story time for longer, and his whole routine goes smoothly.”

In addition, the more active your child is, the more confident they’ll become in their physical abilities.

How do you encourage your child to move more?

Play is the best way to get your child moving. “You can race to the bathroom to brush your teeth, or crawl or jump on the way there,” says Gendron. You could also have a dance party with your child before dinner or stay out for an extra 15 minutes on the way home from daycare. Not only will you get your child moving, you’ll enjoy some quality parent-child bonding time.

Playing outside is obviously a great way to be active. “Children move more vigorously when they’re outside,” says Professor Félix Berrigan. “Why is that? It’s simple: there’s more space, more opportunity to move, and fewer constraints, and it seems to take less effort.” When kids play outside, they also face more physical challenges, such as climbing little hills or walking on uneven ground.

For their part, Emmanuelle Dion and Mathieu Leduc, parents of 4-and-a-half-year-old Alexandria, favour active transportation. “In the morning, Mathieu walks Alexandria to daycare,” says Emmanuelle. In addition, her daughter always has access to toys and equipment that help her get moving. “We leave her balance bike in the house and she uses it all the time. She also likes to use my exercise ball.” Children are also more likely to be active if they see that their parents lead an active lifestyle. For Dr. Berrigan, it’s important to focus on what your child enjoys and to avoid forcing them to play: “Remember, just have fun!”

Put the screens away
There are only 24 hours in a day, so when your child spends a good chunk of it in front of a screen, that means less time for physical activity. Remember, children shouldn’t be exposed to screens before the age of 2. From age 2 to 5, keep screen time limited to an hour a day. Once screen time is over, suggest some fun physical activities for your child to do.


Your guide to fun physical activities

Need inspiration? Wondering what to expect as your child develops? Here are some fun physical activities suggested by our three specialists. Most of these activities can be done outside. The only rules are to have fun and follow your little one’s lead!


Need inspiration? Wondering what to expect as your child develops? Here are some fun physical activities suggested by our three specialists. Most of these activities can be done outside. The only rules are to have fun and follow your little one’s lead!

0–12 months

Movement stimulates your baby’s senses and helps them become more aware of their body. During these months, they’ll learn to hold their head up, turn over, and grip and hold objects. They’ll also gradually start to play while sitting up and practise standing up and moving around. Here are a few ways to engage your baby and get them moving.

  • Place your baby on their tummy for short periods of time while they’re awake. Set them in front of a mirror or lie down in front of or next to them to encourage them to lift their head.
  • Activate your baby’s muscles with gentle movements. Move their legs like they’re pedalling a bike.
  • Lay your baby on their back on a blanket and gently pull or turn it so they can experience the sensation of being in motion.
  • Lie down next to your baby and let them climb onto your belly and touch your face. Then help them do somersaults or log rolls on top of you.
  • When your baby can sit up on their own, place a few toys out of reach and encourage them to grab them.
  • Sit in front of your child with your legs apart and roll a small ball toward them. Try to get them to touch it and roll it back to you.
When Louaï was a baby, he loved tummy time. We would lie down next to him so he would turn and look at us. And we praised him whenever he did something new, like grabbing a toy or rolling onto his back.
– Valérie Arsenault, mother of Louaï, aged 1 and a half
  • Place toys and cushions with different textures on the floor for your baby to crawl over or around.
  • Set your baby down near furniture that they can use for support when standing up and moving around (e.g., an ottoman or sofa).

1 to 3 years

During this stage, your toddler will learn to walk and then run. They’ll refine their motor skills through play. They’ll also discover the joys of using their feet to propel themself around on ride-on toys.

  • Set up an “art gallery” in a hallway or room in your house for your toddler to practise walking. Stick pictures on the wall at your little one’s eye level. Make sure to space them out a little. Your toddler can lean on the wall with their hands as they move from picture to picture.
  • Place a basket about a metre away from your toddler and have them try to score a basket with a ball, a balloon, or crumpled-up paper.
  • Play red light, green light. When you say “green,” your toddler can run, jump, or dance. When you say “red,” they have to freeze like a statue.
We like to make little obstacle courses around the house. We’ll put a line of yoga blocks on the floor and have Colin hop from block to block or jump over them.
– Marilène Provencher, mother of Colin, aged 2 and a half
  • Blow soap bubbles and have your toddler try to catch them!
  • Ask your toddler to do their best animal impressions: fly like a bird, slither like a snake, swim like a fish, or walk like an elephant or turtle.
  • Set up an obstacle course. Have your child step over toys or crawl under a chair, or give them challenges like walking with a stuffed animal balanced on their head, walking on tiptoe, or following a line on the ground.
  • Draw a chalk path for your child to follow (say, in a schoolyard, on the sidewalk, or on a driveway). They can walk, run, or ride a balance bike (a bike without pedals) along the path.
We like to play catch with a party balloon. It’s a perfect game for playdates at a friend’s house. It’s simple, fun, and a great way to connect with others. The only drawback is that sometimes our son has too much fun!
– Karim Kammourieh, father of Louaï, aged 1 and a half

3 years and up

At this age, your child is becoming increasingly agile and has lots of energy! They’ve mastered complex skills like hopping on one leg, going up and down stairs, running at different speeds, doing somersaults, and catching a ball. Imagination has an important role in their play. At this stage, you can start doing more challenging activities with your child.

  • Use chalk to draw a course on the sidewalk. For example, you could draw stepping stones that your child has to step on one at a time, a straight line they have to walk on while balancing, and stars they have to jump on five times.
  • Have your child jump over a jump rope while you swing it in circles or zigzag it on the ground.
  • Go to the park and challenge your child to complete a ninja course. For instance: “Walk between the swings without touching them. Be careful, they’re made of lava! Then, climb up the hill and log roll back down. Walk on all fours across the park bench to keep away from the crocodiles underneath, then run and touch the big tree.”
  • Tie one of your child’s legs to yours with a scarf and try to walk around together.
  • Attach a strip of fabric to the back of your pants and challenge your child to pull it off, flag football–style. For an added challenge, mark off a circle with a rope and make sure you don’t go outside that area. Then, switch roles.
  • Give your child a pillow to use as a shield. Then, throw paper balls or stuffed animals at them and see how many they can block with their pillow shield.
I work out in the living room a lot. When Alexandria was a baby, I would put her next to me, and sometimes I’d pick her up and hold her while I did my exercises. Now that she’s older, she likes to join in and copy what I’m doing.
- Emmanuelle Dion, mother of Alexandria, aged 4 and a half


Things to keep in mind
  • Your child needs to be active to strengthen their muscles, improve their coordination, and develop properly.
  • When children move, they also expend energy, which helps release tension and relieve stress.
  • It’s a good idea to let your child have lots of active playtime, both indoors and outdoors.


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, May–June 2022
Research and copywriting: Julie Leduc
Scientific review: Suzanne Laberge, Full Professor, École de kinésiologie et des sciences de l’activité physique, Université de Montréal



  • “Jeux pour s’amuser dans de petits espaces.”
  • Active for Life. “Activities for kids.”
  • “Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines.”
  • Ferland, Francine. Et si on jouait? Le jeu au cœur du développement de l’enfant. Éditions du CHU SainteJustine, 2018, 240 pp.
  • Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. L’activité physique chez les jeunes enfants : une habitude amusante et saine.
  • Caring for Kids. “Physical activity for children and youth.”


Photos (in order): Nicolas St-Germain, GettyImages/RyanJLane, Nicolas St-Germain, Maxim Morin, GettyImages/kate_sept2004, Nicolas St-Germain, GettyImages/ryasick