Your preschooler is full of energy and keen to put all physical abilities to the test. Here are some fun play ideas to keep your preschooler moving – and learning at the same time.

Daily movement for preschoolers: why it’s important

Movement is important for your child’s learning, health and wellbeing.

Daily movement helps your child build muscles and practise physical skills. Her confidence will grow as she climbs higher, runs faster and jumps further.

Play is one of the main ways that children learn and develop, so everyday play is the best way to get your preschooler moving.

Australian guidelines say that preschoolers should be active for at least three hours every day, but this doesn’t mean three hours of running around until your child is exhausted. Active play can range from running and jumping to quieter activities like putting toys away, helping with everyday household tasks and going for a walk.

What to expect: preschoolers and movement

Children of this age generally enjoy being active. But every preschooler is unique, and what your child can do depends a bit on his past experiences and opportunities.

At 3-4 years, your preschooler will probably:

  • start to dress independently
  • use scissors quite well
  • ride a scooter
  • ride a tricycle by four years and start trying to ride a bike, with training wheels and a helmet
  • jump over small objects and swing independently on the swing
  • walk up and down stairs without using a hand rail 
  • be more coordinated – for example, she might be able to kick a ball using her right or left leg
  • be able to stand on one foot (both right and left).

At five years, your preschooler is more coordinated and stronger. You might find your child can:

  • hop well on both his left and right foot
  • learn to skip
  • dress himself without your help
  • learn to tie shoe laces
  • throw, hit a ball with a bat or racquet, and bounce and catch a ball.

At this age, your preschooler might want to play organised games with simple rules with other children. These might be games like chasey or piggy in the middle.

Small bumps and falls are common as your child pushes physical skills to the limit. This is a normal part of how children learn and develop.

Play ideas to get your preschooler moving

Here are some play ideas to develop your preschooler’s movement skills – and to help you have fun together!

  • Give your preschooler some child-friendly sports equipment, like balls, bats or throwable beanbags.
  • Give your preschooler some large cardboard boxes. Your child can climb on top of them, crawl through them and push them around.
  • Borrow or buy a bike with training wheels – your child might want to try this at about four years. And if it isn’t too far, walk, scoot or ride to get places instead of using a car.
  • Make time for outdoor play together – this could be at a park or a playground, in the backyard, on a beach or at a football ground.
  • Listen to music that your child can dance to. You can also learn or make up actions to the songs together. If you give your child some fabric to wave with the music, it can get her moving her body in new ways.
  • Do some rough-and-tumble play. Preschoolers are the biggest rough-and-tumblers and enjoy wrestling, rolling and climbing all over you, their siblings or friends.

Quiet, gentle activities are just as important for your preschooler’s development as play that’s loud, energetic and encourages bigger movements. For example, drawing or making crafts gives preschoolers practice at coordinating the small movements of their fingers. 

Children learn from watching their parents. So if you want your child to be active, it’s good for you to be active too.

Obstacles to toddler movement

Screen time
At this age, children can enjoy some screen time, but it’s best to limit the time your child spends sitting in front of screens. Other activities are better for your child’s development. These include being active, doing pretend and creative play, and spending time with other children.

Car seats and strollers
It’s worth thinking about how much time your preschooler spends sitting still – for example, in a car seat or stroller. This should be no more than one hour at a time.

If your child doesn’t seem interested in interacting with other children or is mostly inactive, it’s a good idea to talk with your child and family health nurse or GP about your child’s development.

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Last updated or reviewed
19-12-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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