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10 Ways to Engage Your Child in Active Play


You may know that the American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts recommend limiting screen time in exchange for active, engaged play. But once you’ve turned off the TV and powered down the iPhone, you may be thinking, “Now what?” Try these 10 ways to get your kiddo started on an active life, with help from expert Len Saunders, author of Keeping Kids Fit: A Family Plan for Raising Healthy, Active Children. The first five tips are for babies; the second, toddlers.

1. Walk Outside

Urban mom with strollers

Take your baby for long stroller walks, so he comes to associate the outdoors with active movement. Point out the sights as you walk, and talk to your baby about your physical activity by saying things like, “Wow, Mommy is walking fast! Do you feel the gentle breeze on your face?”

2. Move Early and Often

Mother with child boy doing fitness exercises

Encourage movement-based play even before your baby can move objects by herself. Helping your little one wave her arm so she can delight in making a bell ring or a rattle shake is not only a wonderful sensory experience for her, it is also a way to connect play with physical activity.

3. Allow Movement

mom holding up her baby

Make sure you’re encouraging movement, not forbidding it—even subconsciously. Putting your baby in a jumper instead of a stationary seat while he watches you cook dinner, for example, will give him the opportunity to discover that movement is a positive experience in all sorts of times and places. “Children innately like to move, so a parent should not slow them down,” says Saunders.

4. Safety First

Mother Exercise With Her Baby At Home

Make sure that sharp furniture corners are covered, heavy objects are out of baby’s reach, and soft mats or blankets cover hard tile floors. The safer your baby’s play space is, the more comfortable you’ll be encouraging active play.

5. Let’s Get Musical

Kids with music instruments

Connect motion-based play with music. Babies are naturally attuned to musical rhythms, which you can teach them to associate with movement by helping them clap their hands, stomp their feet, or reach high and low in time with the beat. Saunders says you’ll be surprised how quickly your baby learns to associate movement and music, and soon you’ll be imitating their motions to your favorite songs!

6. Play Along

Mother And Son Playing With Toys On Floor At Home

Participate in your toddler’s games. Movement is more complex for young walkers and explorers, so your presence will not only protect them from taking unsafe risks, but it will also model that physical activity is fun. “A parent can foster more movement by being actively involved,” Saunders says. So jump on the swing set and see how high you can go!

7. Take Movement-Based Classes

Mothers And Babies At Music Group

Most communities have places for kids to take tumbling, swimming, dancing, or even yoga classes. When you accompany your child to a movement-based class, you’re communicating to them that active play is an important part of their daily routine. And if you’re not a fitness buff yourself, you’ll get the added bonus of leaving the teaching to trained professionals!

8. Reward Movement

mom on the swings with her toddler

Cheers, tickles, and high-fives are great ways to reinforce that your child is doing a good thing when he is playing in an active way. Or, enjoy a glass of water or lemonade with your child after a game of backyard catch, to punctuate an active time with a satisfying reward.

9. Create Active Family Rituals

African American family holding hands in garden

In the summer, institute an after-dinner twilight family walk around the neighborhood. Or pledge to make a family of fresh snow angels each time it snows in the winter. From Saturday afternoon mini-golf tournaments to rainy-day games of Twister, pairing family bonding with active play is sure to create lasting, healthy memories.

10. Take Art Outside

Colorful sun drawn on asphalt with sidewalk chalk

Kids armed with chalk and a blank sidewalk, or sent on a nature scavenger hunt to collect pine cones, sticks, or leaves will be exercising their creative minds at the same time that they’re moving their bodies.

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