Things to Consider when Planning for Physical Activities in Child Care

Boy on wooden balance bike

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in early childhood. Child care providers can play an important role in preventing obesity by helping children stay active and learn the importance of physical activity. Here are 15 things to consider as you help the children in your child care program stay physically active.

  1. A major reason for the growth in the rate of childhood obesity is lack of exercise. Children today are less active, and the rates of childhood obesity are growing alarmingly.
  2. Exercises like jumping, running, dancing or hiking can strengthen children’s bones both now and later in life. These activities can help children’s bones to be stronger.
  3. Active children are more likely to become active adults. If you help children become active now, they are more likely to stay active as adults.
  4. Research has found that regular physical activity can help reduce the chances of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer. Encouraging children to be active now may help prevent these chronic diseases later.
  5. The best form of physical education for the child from birth to age 2 is to let the child be active naturally. Children under 2 should be given plenty of time to move but do not need a formal physical education program.
  6. Preschoolers are not too young to learn the value of physical activity. Children should participate in fitness activities and learn why moving their bodies is important for good health.
  7. Organized team sports are not the best way for children ages 3 through 5 to build motor skills. Team sports are not well-rounded physical education because each sport tends to emphasize one or two particular skills, such as kicking and catching. Children also need to learn other skills, such as balance and movement. Another problem with team sports in this age range is that most children are not developmentally ready to participate in structured team sports. They are unable to understand complex rules and may be upset about losing.
  8. You do not need to have a lot of equipment and space to offer quality physical activities. Create stations with different activities, like tossing and jumping in your child care room. Bring active play to small spaces. You do not need equipment for each child. Use masking tape on the floor to show children where they can move. This allows children to move a great deal in a limited space without disturbing others.
  9. Children are naturally accident-prone. It is best not to warn them about hurting themselves. Warning will probably not reduce unintentional injuries, and might make children afraid of physical activity. Keep children safe by redirecting them from unsafe activities, but don’t say “be careful” all the time.
  10. Good physical activity time for young children is playful and fun, with a balance of free play and guided discovery. The most important message in being active for young children is that using your body can be fun. Each child must find the activities that are right for him or her.
  11. Because young children lack muscular endurance, they tire easily and quickly but also recover quickly. Plan short bursts of activity, with time for children to rest in between.

In addition, here are a few guidelines for encouraging healthy eating in child care:

  1. Snack foods should be low in sugar, salt, and fat. Children need to snack to get all the nutrition they need to grow. Snacks provide a good opportunity to offer fruits and vegetables and to try new foods. Children are more likely to try a new food for snack than at a mealtime.
  2. Milk and water are the best drinks for children. Sugar-sweetened beverages like fruit drinks contain empty calories, with little nutritional value. They make children feel full without providing any nutrients.
  3. Food is not an appropriate way to motivate kids. Giving children treats for good behavior may be harmful. Although it may encourage children to do what you want at that moment, using a food reward can lead them to eat when they are not hungry. This behavior may contribute to the development of food disorders later in life. It may also discourage them from behaving appropriately if they do not get the reward.
  4. Be a good role model for physical activity and healthy eating habits. Children watch and imitate what you do. Sit with children during snacks and mealtime. Eat the same foods they eat. Participate in movement activities and active play every day.

For More Information

To learn more about encouraging healthy eating and physical activity in the child care setting, check out the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: