Raising a Fit Preschooler
Preschoolers have a lot of energy, which they use in a more organized way than when they were toddlers. Instead of just running around in the backyard, a preschooler has the physical skills and coordination to ride a tricycle or chase a butterfly.
Preschoolers also are discovering what it means to play with a friend instead of just alongside another child, as toddlers do. Being around other kids helps preschoolers gain important social skills, such as sharing and taking turns. Despite occasional conflicts, preschoolers learn to cooperate and interact during play.
Helping Kids Learn New Skills
Preschoolers develop important motor skills as they grow. New skills your preschooler might show off include hopping, jumping forward, catching a ball, doing a somersault, skipping, and balancing on one foot. Help your child practice these skills by playing and exercising together.
When you go for a walk, your preschooler may complain about being tired but most likely is just bored. A brisk walk can be dull for young kids, so try these tips to liven up your family stroll:
- Make your walk a scavenger hunt by giving your child something to find, like a red door, a cat, a flag, and something square.
- Sing songs or recite nursery rhymes while you walk.
- Mix walking with jumping, racing, hopping, and walking backward.
- Make your walk together a fun math lesson as you focus on numbers and counting: How many windows are on the garage door? What numbers are on the houses?
How Much Activity Is Enough?
Physical activity guidelines recommend that preschoolers:
- are active throughout the day
- move and engage in both active play and structured (adult-led) physical activity
- do activities such as jumping, hopping, and tumbling to strengthen bones
Preschoolers should do a variety of fun and challenging physical activities that help build skills and coordination, but aren't beyond their abilities. They should be active about 3 hours a day, including light, moderate, and vigorous activities.
Preschoolers shouldn’t get more than 1 hour a day of screen time (watching on a TV, computer, phone, or tablet).
How Can I Keep My Preschooler Moving?
Preschoolers should get a mix of physical activities, from playing "Duck, Duck, Goose" at preschool to moving around in a tumbling or dance class.
Play together in the backyard and take trips to the playground where they can run, jump, and climb.
Many kids love being outdoors, but lots of fun things can be organized indoors: a child-friendly obstacle course, a treasure hunt, or forts made out sheets and boxes or chairs. Designate a play area and clear the space of any breakables.
Here are some more ideas for active play inside:
- Play bounce catch.
- Use paper airplanes to practice throwing.
- Balance a beanbag on your heads while walking — make this more challenging by setting up a simple slalom course.
- Play freeze dance.
- Play wheelbarrow by holding your child's legs while they walk forward on their hands.
What About Organized Sports?
Many parents are eager to enroll their preschool child in organized sports. Some leagues may be open to kids as young as 4 years old, but most preschoolers can't understand complex rules and often lack the attention span, skills, and coordination needed to play sports.
If you do sign up your preschooler in a sport such as T-ball or soccer, make sure the focus is on helping kids gain basic physical skills, like kicking a ball, and fundamental social skills, like following rules and taking turns. To teach preschoolers to play baseball, start by teaching them how to throw, catch, and hit off a T-ball stand. Don't worry if your child doesn't tag first base — it's enough to get kids running in the right direction.
If your preschooler is not ready for the team or not interested in sports, consider helping them continue to work on fundamental skills, like hopping on one foot, doing a somersault, and riding a bicycle or tricycle.
Preschoolers watch how their parents spend their time. So set a good example by exercising regularly and being active. Kids who see this as something their parents do naturally want to do it too.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995- KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.