Keeping your child active every day

Keeping your child active every day
Playing is the best way to get your child moving. But what is considered active for an eight-month old baby? And for a three-year-old? What types of games are best and how much time should you spend on them?

Playing is the best way to get your child moving. But what is considered active for an eight-month old baby? And for a three-year-old? What types of games are best and how much time should you spend on them?

Under age one

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that infants under age one should be physically active several times a day. How? Simply by playing on the floor.

Under six months old, it’s important to give your baby lots of tummy time when awake (where you can keep an eye on her, of course), since this position strengthens her upper body muscles and helps her develop gross motor skills. Also give her plenty of opportunity to roll around and to try to reach and grab objects.

After six months old, your baby needs to climb, roll, crawl and stand up while holding onto something sturdy; pull and push a toy; grab objects, and so on. Marie-Andrée, nine-month-old Gabrielle’s mom, says, “When my daughter was two or three months old, I would put her on the floor and place toys alternately on either side of her. It would encourage her to roll over. Now, we play hide-and-seek. I go to one corner of the room and call out to her. She crawls over to find me on all fours. She loves this game, she can do it 10 times in a row!”

From one to five years old

For children from one to four years of age, the recommendation is three hours of daily physical activity of any intensity, spread throughout the day and in various environments. At five years old, children should engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day at moderate to vigorous intensity (energetic play).

A child should not remain seated for more than one hour at a time. Ideally, your child should play outside every day. Preschoolers aged three to four spend an average of 5.8 hours per day doing sedentary activities.

Low-intensity activities are those whose movements do not require much energy: dressing up, walking slowly, playing with blocks, painting, playing in a sand box, swinging, sliding, and so on. Moderate- to vigorous-intensity activities increase body temperature, activate muscles, increase heart rate and lead to breathlessness: walking briskly, pedaling, doing somersaults, throwing or catching, climbing, dancing, running, jumping, rolling, balancing and so on. The intensity of the activity increases according to the energy your child puts into it.

Ideally, your child’s day should be divided between structured play and free active play (spontaneous play):

  • Structured play is led by an adult and has instructions and rules. It allows the child to acquire skills and targets specific learning. With the support of an adult, the child can develop and eventually master a number of fundamental motor skills that would otherwise be difficult to develop alone (e.g.: balancing, catching, throwing, kicking, rolling, jumping, etc.). Organized sports classes and activities fall into this category, as well as games led by you or an educator.
  • Free or spontaneous play is initiated by the child, who decides what she wants to do and organizes the game the way she wants to. An adult is there to supervise and ensure the child’s safety, but avoids dictating what to do. This type of play allows your child to use her creativity and develop her imagination, and works on her ability to make decisions and engage in social interaction if there are other children involved in the play. To promote spontaneous active play, it’s a good idea to bring your child outdoors. “She’ll then be able to engage in more energetic play like running, jumping and climbing,” says Monique Dubuc, National Coordinator at Kino-Québec.
Is your child hyperactive?
Is your child brimming over with so much energy that you think she may be hyperactive? Rest assured: most preschoolers are often very active. It’s normal and not necessarily a result of hyperactivity. Between 5% and 8% of children actually suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). “Even if some troublesome behaviour occurs before school starts, the diagnosis is rarely made before age 5, and most often, at age 7,” says Dr. Rhida Joober, physician and researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute. You should consult your doctor when your child’s agitation is so intense that it makes family life almost impossible and greatly disrupts her ability to function at daycare and to engage in social interaction.