Physical Activity Needs for Your Child

quinoa saladPhysical activity is very important for the healthy development of your child during the first six years of life.  It is even more important in the first three years of life when his/her brain development is accelerated.   

As children get older, physical activity plays a key role in their ability to learn and it improves cognitive function, concentration, self-esteem, social skills and mood.  

How much physical activity does my child need?

Chart describing how much physical activity children require


Amount of Physical Activity


At least 30 minutes structured* play
At least 60 minutes unstructured** play


At least 60 minutes structured play
At least 60 minutes unstructured play


At least 60 minutes moderate intensity***


At least 60 minutes moderate intensity

*structured play is an activity with that is planned, guided and usually led by an adult
**unstructured play is an activity with no rules – the child decides on their own what to do 
***a moderate intensity activity results in deep, consistent breathing, produces a light sweat and uses 65-74% of one’s maximum heart rate

What kind of activity does my child need?

For well-rounded development, your child’s physical activity should include:

Chart describing what kind of activity children require



Activities for younger kids

Activities for
older kids


Strengthens heart and lungs

Active crawling, walking

Running, jumping, skipping, swimming, soccer, hockey  


Encourages bending, stretching and reaching

Picking up toys from standing position

Gymnastics, dancing, stretching, swimming, martial arts  


Builds strong muscles and bones

Pushing boxes and pulling toys 

Climbing, carrying groceries, shovelling snow    

Skill development in younger children

The early years are a critical time to help your child develop good habits and positive attitudes towards physical activity.  The objective is to help your child learn basic movements and skills through active play to prepare him/her for more complex movements as he/she gets older.

See the chart below for a guideline of when children should be learning and mastering basic movement skills.  Children grow and develop at different rates so be patient and keep working on each skill with them.

Source: Canadian Sports for Life external link    Printable Verion pdf opens in a new brower window

Skill development in older children

Skill development should focus on the ABCs – Agility, Balance, Coordination as well as  on  speed and rhythmic activities.   These can be learned through both structured and unstructured play.

Children are also starting to develop important social, decision-making, strategy and teamwork skills that can be improved through a variety of physical activities and sports. 

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