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Do Preschoolers Really Need Structured Exercise Every Day?

By Jean Campbell

If you are the parent or grandparent of a preschooler you’ve got to be thinking no way does my preschooler need structured exercise!

But…the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks us to consider the rise in overweight children between the ages of two and five years of age. In the late 1970s, about 5% of children between 2 and 5 years old were overweight. Just recently that figure reached nearly 14%,

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education(NASPE) suggests that preschoolers (ages 3 to 5) spend at least 60 minutes a day in total on structured physical exercise that help a preschooler develop motor skills. Children need daily practice to develop motor skills. Preschoolers need an additional 60 minutes on unstructured physical activities. They should not be engaging in more than 60 minutes at a time in sedentary activities unless they are asleep.

The guidelines for toddlers, 12 to 36 months old, are similar with the exception of structured physical activity adding up to 30 minutes a day rather than 60 minutes.

Parents and grandparents make the best teachers of physical exercise and activities. Try playing the following games to make sure your preschooler or toddle meets his or her daily requirements for physical activities:

  • Any kind of tag game

  • Catch with balls that are the proper size and weight for size and age

  • Water activities such as swimming, water exercises and games

  • Riding a tricycle or a scooter

  • Crawling activities

  • Doing jumping jacks

  • Music games and dancing to music

  • Playground jungle gym

NASPE offers a  word of caution… it is best to make these daily activities fun or, as our preschoolers get older structured physical activities may become a turnoff.


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