Preschoolers have a lot of energy, which they use in a more organized way than when they were toddlers. Instead of just running around in the backyard, a preschooler has the physical skills and coordination to ride a tricycle or chase a butterfly.
Preschoolers also are discovering what it means to play with a friend instead of just alongside another child, as toddlers do. By being around other kids, a preschooler gains important social skills, such as sharing and taking turns. Despite occasional conflicts, preschoolers learn to cooperate and interact during play.
Preschoolers develop important motor skills as they grow. New skills your preschooler might show off include hopping, jumping forward, catching a ball, doing a somersault, skipping, and balancing on one foot. Help your child practice these skills by playing and exercising together.
When you go for a walk, your preschooler may complain about being tired but most likely is just bored. A brisk walk can be dull for young kids, so try these tips to liven up your family stroll:
These kinds of activities are fun and also help to prepare kids for school.
Physical activity guidelines for preschoolers recommend that each day:
Limit screen — time spent watching TV (including videos and DVDs), on the computer, and playing video games — to no more than 1-2 hours per day.
Preschoolers are likely to get structured play at childcare or in preschool programs through games like "Duck, Duck, Goose" and "London Bridge." Consider enrolling your child in a preschool tumbling or dance class.
Your preschooler can get structured outdoor play at home, too. Play together in the backyard or practice motor skills, such as throwing and catching a ball. Preschoolers also love trips to the playground.
Though many kids love being outdoors, lots of fun things can be organized indoors: a child-friendly obstacle course, a treasure hunt, or forts made out sheets and boxes or chairs. Designate a play area and clear the space of any breakables.
Here are some more ideas for structured play:
Many parents are eager to enroll their preschool child in organized sports. Although some leagues may be open to kids as young as 4 years old, organized and team sports are not recommended until kids are a little older. Preschoolers can't understand complex rules and often lack the attention span, skills, and coordination needed to play sports.
If you decide to enroll your preschooler in an organized team sport, such as T-ball or soccer, make sure the focus is on helping kids gain basic physical skills, like running, and fundamental social skills, like following rules and taking turns.
If your preschooler is not ready for the team or not interested in sports, consider helping him or her continue to work on fundamental skills — hopping on one foot, catching a ball, doing a somersault, and maybe riding a bicycle or tricycle.
To teach preschoolers to play baseball, start by teaching them basic skills, such as throwing, catching, and hitting off a T-ball stand. Then, if you play a game of wiffle ball, don't worry if your child doesn't tag first base — it's enough to get kids running in the right direction.
Unstructured or free play is when kids are left more to their own devices — within a safe environment. During these times, they should be able to choose from a variety of physical activities, such as exploring, playing outside, or dancing around the kitchen.
During pretend play, preschoolers often like to take on a gender-specific role because they are beginning to identify with members of the same gender. A girl might pretend to be her mother by "working" in the garden, while a boy might mimic his dad by pretending to cut the lawn.
It's clear your preschooler is keeping an eye on how you spend your time, so set a good example by exercising regularly. Kids who pick up on this as something parents do will naturally want to do it, too.
No matter what type of physical activity your child gets, it's important to keep safety concerns in mind. Remember that preschoolers are still developing coordination, balance, and judgment.
So as preschoolers play, a parent's challenge is to find a balance between letting them try new things and keeping them safe and preventing injuries.
It's a tricky age because kids want more independence, and should have some, but cannot be left unsupervised. Preschoolers still need their parents to set limits.
Giving kids safe opportunities to play in both organized and unstructured ways builds a foundation for a fit lifestyle that can carry them through life.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014
|National Safety Council The National Safety Council offers information on first aid, CPR, environmental health, and safety.|
|U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) This federal agency collects information about consumer goods and issues recalls on unsafe or dangerous products.|
|Kids Sports Network This organization promotes quality nonschool sports and fitness for children between the ages of 3 and 19 through coaches, education, special events and activities, public awareness, and regular networking with youth sports organizations and agencies.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|TOYSAFETY.net This site, which is a project of the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) provides toy safety information for consumers.|
|American Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.|
|SHAPE America SHAPE America is the largest organization of professionals involved in school-based health, physical education and physical activity, who are dedicated to teaching and promoting active, healthy lifestyles.|
|Let's Move! Let's Move! is dedicated to solving the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.|
|Is Your Preschooler Too Active? Preschoolers need lots of physical activity, so it's best to work with their high energy levels by keeping them safe while giving them opportunities to play.|
|Introducing Preschoolers to Music Most preschoolers love music, and it does more than entertain. Research shows that kids who are actively involved in music develop important life skills too.|
|Safe Exploring for Preschoolers Kids ages 3-5 have tons of energy and are eager to walk, run, dance, and play. It's a great age for exploration too.|
|Motivating Preschoolers to Be Active A preschooler's desire to move, move, move makes this a great time to encourage fitness habits that can last a lifetime.|
|Games for Preschoolers Whether at a party or a play date, preschoolers love to play games. These games can be used for birthday parties, rainy day get-togethers, or anytime you find yourself with a bunch of energetic preschoolers.|
|Kids and Exercise Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges.|
|Your Child's Weight "What's the right weight for my child?" is one of the most common questions parents have. It seems like a simple one, but it's not always easy to answer.|
|Should Your Preschooler Play Sports? Team sports can be too complicated for the average preschooler. Here are some fun and easy ways to keep them active.|
|Sleep and Your Preschooler Preschoolers sleep about 11 to 12 hours during each 24-hour period, and it's important to help them develop good habits for getting to sleep.|
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