How to Inspire a Love of Movement from an Early Age

Nurturing a lifelong love of movement and physical activity in children is a goal for many parents and caregivers. Unfortunately, less than 24% of American children ages 6 to 17 get 60 minutes of physical activity per day, which is the recommended amount for children.
The good news? When kids develop a love for something like movement early on, it usually sticks to them for life. To ensure your child gets enough exercise as he gets older, you need to lay a foundation for a lifetime appreciation of movement in his early years.
Read on to discover how a love of movement begins at home, get ideas to inspire young children to get moving and have fun, and find out why physically active kids grow into active adults.

The love of movement begins at home
The foundation you lay with young children is critical to their overall health.
Dennis Woodall-Ruff, MD, MD, director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Wellness at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, says children are their parents’ actions and other key role models in their lives when it comes to many lifestyle behaviors, including physical activity and fitness habits.
“A child who observes a parent or role model engaging in a healthy level of physical activity is more likely to accept these behaviors for themselves,” she says. “Similarly, a child who observes his or her caregiver sitting on the couch for extended periods and engaging in inactive behaviors is more likely to accept these behaviors as their norm,” Woodall Ruff adds.

Here are 12 tips to help you inspire a love of movement from an early age.

Make sure the activity is age appropriate
Asking a 3-year-old to take part in a family game of badminton might not be the best way to encourage movement. However, lowering the net and giving them a preschool-sized racket with a large ball increases success and improves the fun factor.

Focus on motor skills
Developing gross motor skills is critical for children, especially preschoolers. These skills help children with balance, strength, coordination, and reaction time.
If you have toddlers and preschoolers, focus activities around kicking, throwing, jumping, climbing, hurdle drills, or riding a tricycle or bike with training wheels.
Ensure they wear helmets and other protective equipment when cycling, and are appropriately supervised when climbing or using toys or moving devices.

Make active games available
When choosing indoor and outdoor games, include items that require active play, such as balls for toddlers and bikes and scooters for older children. Climbing toys are an excellent choice for toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged children, just make sure they are age appropriate.
Aim to play more active passive games at home. When your child requests a new toy, ask him to donate a passive toy in exchange for a new active toy. This filters Libra in favor of movement and teaches them that less is more.

Encourage free play
Free play is how children learn about themselves and their environment. It’s also an excellent time to sneak in some exercise.
Be sure to include several free play opportunities throughout the day. To keep play active, encourage your child to get outdoors for 30 minutes and use their imagination to create an obstacle course, scavenger hunt, ride a bike or scooter, or play with balls and other outdoor games.

Be active with your children
Telling kids of any age to “get some exercise” doesn’t always work. However, if you get active with your kids, they are more likely to want to get involved. Plus, this can be a time saver for working parents who want to exercise but struggle to get away from their kids outside of the workday.

Create an activity schedule
Woodall-Ruff recommends a weekly schedule of physical activity with goals. This is something you have to do together and post in a common place. Decide, with your child, a non-food reward when they achieve this goal.

Talk about fitness
If you want to inspire your children to love movement, you have to teach them what it means. Look for opportunities to create a positive fitness culture at home. Talk about the exercises, sports and activities you do and how important they are in your life. At the dinner table, discuss food and how it fuels movement.

Turn house chores into exercise
Combining chores with active competitions accomplishes two things: Your child completes a household task and exercises while doing so. If you have more than one child, turn the chores into a competition that includes playing sports.
For example, toddlers and preschoolers can race to see who can toss their clothes into the basket the fastest. Outside, have a competition between yard picking or lawn weeding. Designate a section of the yard for each child (and parent) to clean. The person who finishes first wins.

Let them choose the activity
Even young children know what they like, and they definitely feel appreciated when you ask them about it. Allow your child to choose some activities or sports that they enjoy, and participate in them as a family.

Read a story inspired by the movement
Libraries and libraries are full of books that keep young children moving. Collect some and let your child choose two or three to bring home. Here are some titles to get you started:
“Yoga Bug” by Sarah Jane Hinder
“The Yoga Zoo Adventure” by Helen Purperhart
“Get Up and Go” by Nancy Carlson

Sign up for an activity based nursery
If you need childcare or plan to send your little one to preschool, find places that make movement and fitness an important part of the day.

Try an organized sport
When the kids are old enough, you might consider enrolling them in an organized sport. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that most children are ready for simple, structured sports by age 6 (3).

Team sports, such as soccer and teeball, have age groups that tailor the game to a child’s age and level, allowing them to practice new skills while learning about competition.

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