2. Fitness

Young Children Learn A Lot When They Play

Playing with others is important to a child’s development. Life skills are learned when children play that can help them to make and keep friends. As a parent you can encourage your child to take part in healthy playtime by taking your child to a park to play with other children or by joining an organized play group. Aggressive behavior between children is normal, but as a parent and supervisor there are a number of steps you can take to keep aggressive behavior to a minimum.

Playing With Others is Important Child’s Work

  • Support play by making your home a good place to play.
  • Teach the skills needed to play well with others.
  • Learning to play well with others is not a one-time lesson. It takes time and practice.
  • Important life skills are learned when children play. These skills will help them make and keep friends.

When young children play with children close to their own age, they learn:

  • How to cooperate
  • When to lead and when to follow
  • How to solve problems

Create Play Opportunities

Invite other children to your home or to play in the neighborhood park.

  • The first visit needs to be short (about 1 hour) and is best with only one other child.
  • Plan to end before everyone gets too tired.
  • Know how to contact the other child’s parent.

Go to another child’s home.

  • For the first visit, you may want to stay until you know your child is comfortable being there without you.
  • Get to know the other child’s parents. You might be able to help each other out!

Join an organized play group.

When playing without parents, children do best with a small number of children.

Find out with whom your child likes to play.

For children in child care, preschool, and play groups, invite a friend to your house or to the park.

Make Your Home a Great Place to Play

  • Plan ahead. Avoid things like superhero dress-up clothes and toy guns that encourage aggressive play.
  • Find out what your visitor enjoys. Ask your child what activities the friend enjoys. Playtime will be more fun, and this teaches your child to be thoughtful.
  • Have enough items for everyone. If there aren’t enough, suggest another activity.
  • Your child’s “favorite thing” does not need to be shared. Let your child put away a few things that are off limits.
  • Make your home a safe place. Poisons need to be locked away. Homes without guns are the safest. But if there are guns, they need to be stored locked and unloaded; bullets need to be stored in another locked place.
  • Do not overplan. Just set the stage with materials and ideas. Let the children use their creativity and imaginations!

Help the children with some activities, like cutting out shapes for arts and crafts, and keep an eye on them at all times. For the most part, it is better if you only get involved when they need your help. Give them a chance to resolve differences on their own.

Teach Your Child to Be A Good Playmate

Before, during, and after your child plays with other children, talk about how to get along with others.

Set a few simple and very specific rules.

  • “People are not for hitting.”
  • “We do not grab toys from other children.”

Help your child express likes, dislikes, and desires with words. Review what to say.

  • “I like to paint on the easel.”
  • “I do not like to…”
  • “I want to be a firefighter.”

Show your child how to solve problems.   Explain why something is not possible and offer other choices.

  • “Tell Julie you don’t like to be pushed on the swing. Maybe you would both like to ride on the seesaw instead.”

Notice and praise the children for things that went well.

  • “I really liked the way you remembered to take turns with the watering can.”
  • “It was great to hear you using your polite words!”

Agressive Behavior is Normal

Since it is hard for young children to understand someone else’s point of view, there will be some arguments. Young children react to the moment and may do things without thinking. 

Aggressive behavior is often not meant to be hostile or to hurt others. In fact, young children frequently get upset when another child gets hurt while playing.

When something happens that is upsetting, talk with everyone. Help each child try to see the other child’s point of view. This way, children will learn how to avoid and deal with arguments.

If you are concerned about your child’s aggressive behavior, talk to your pediatrician.

Tips On Reducing Agressive Behavior

Provide the right amount of space.

  • A small number of children in a very large space, or a large number of children in a small space, tends to increase aggressive play. Have the right amount of space to avoid conflicts.

Plan how to respond in a positive way.

  • It’s easier to guide children to good behavior instead of telling them what not to do. “I will be right here; come and tell me if you need my help.”

Redirect behaviors like pushing, hitting, or taking someone else’s toys to a more positive activity.

  • Often, this means it’s time for a new activity. “We don’t grab toys; we share toys. It looks like you’re done with that truck for now. Here are some paper and markers for you.”

Teach children to use words to express feelings, desires, and needs.

  • A child’s first reaction is usually “physical,” so this may be difficult to learn. With words, children learn how to solve their own problems. Teach your child to say something like, “I don’t like that. Grabbing my toy makes me mad. Please give it back.”

Assume a child does something for a good reason, even if the action is not nice.

  • What looks aggressive, like grabbing toys from others, may be a child’s attempt to join in with others. Teach children to take turns rather than get mad at them for grabbing toys.

Pay attention to basic comfort and needs.

  • Conflicts are more likely to happen when children are too hot, too cold, hungry, or tired!
2. Fitness

The Power of Play – How Fun and Games Help Children Thrive

kids playing in cardboard boxes

More than just a chance to have fun, play is serious business when it comes to a child’s health and development. From peek-a-boo to pat-a-cake and hide-and-seek to hopscotch, the many forms of play enrich a child’s brain, body, and life in important ways.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clinical report, The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children, explains how and why playing with both parents and peers is key to building thriving brains, bodies, and social bonds―all important in today’s world. Research shows play can improve children’s abilities to plan, organize, get along with others, and regulate emotions. In addition, play helps with language, math and social skills, and even helps children cope with stress.

A Prescription for Play
Prescription to Play
Despite its many benefits, statistics show that the amount of time children get to play has been declining for decades. Tightly structured family and school schedules, more parents working outside the home, fewer safe places to play, and rising media use and screen time are among the reasons. For example, research shows the average preschooler watches 4.5 hours of TV each day!

To help keep play a key part of childhood, pediatricians may begin writing a “prescription for play” at every well-child visit through age 2. Pediatricians also advise parents to look for quality child care or preschool programs that include playful approaches to learning.

Age-Specific Ideas for Playful Learning

Learning is best fueled by tapping into a child’s natural urge to play, rather than just outside factors like test scores. As they actively engage with and joyfully discover their world, children gain 21st century skills that increasingly call for teamwork and innovation.

Birth to 6 Months

The AAP encourages parents to use play to help meet their child’s health and developmental milestones, beginning from birth. Some examples of ways to do this:

  • Playful learning can start with a baby’s first smile. Responding with a smile of your own is a form of play that also teaches a baby a critical social-emotional skill: “You can get my attention and a smile from me anytime you want―just by smiling yourself.”
  • Imitate your baby’s coos and babbles and have back-and-forth “conversation” using your baby’s sounds as a prompt.
  • Show your baby interesting objects such as a brightly colored toy. Let her bring safe objects to her mouth to explore and experience new textures.
  • Place your baby in different positions so he can see the world from different angles.

7 to 12 Months

  • Make sure your baby has a safe environment to crawl and explore.
  • Give your baby opportunities to learn that her actions have effects—for example, when she drops a toy and it falls to the ground. Put a few toys within reach of your baby so he can take toys out and play with them.
  • Use a mirror to show your baby her different facial expressions.
  • Play peek-a-boo.

1 to 3 Years

  • When choosing childcare and preschools, look for those that include unstructured playtime. Playful learning, where children take the lead and follow their own curiosity, should be the main focus of high-quality early childhood education.
  • Give your child blocks, empty containers, wooden spoons, and puzzles. Simple and inexpensive objects are some of the best ways to support a child’s creativity. Remember, it is parents and caregivers’ presence and attention that enriches children―not fancy electronic gadgets.
  • Give your child opportunities to play with peers. This is a good age to try a parent-supervised playdate.
  • Help your child explore her body through different movements—for example, walking, jumping, and standing on one leg.
  • Provide opportunities for make-believe play—for example, pretending to drink out of an empty cup or offering toys that enable pretend play.
  • Read regularly to and with your child. Encourage pretend play based on these stories.
  • Sing songs and play rhythms so that your child can learn and join in the fun. Begin to introduce some age-appropriate games like Simon Says.

4 to 6 Years

  • Provide opportunities for your child to sing and dance.
  • Tell stories to your child and ask questions about what he or she remembers.
  • Give your child time and space to act out imaginary scenes, roles, and activities.
  • Allow your child to move between make-believe games and reality—for example, playing house and helping you with chores.
  • Schedule time for your child to interact with friends to practice socializing and building friendships.
  • Encourage your child to try a variety of movements in a safe environment—for example, hopping, swinging, climbing, and doing somersaults.
  • Limit screen time to healthy levels. Age-appropriate media can have benefits for older children, especially if you watch and play with them. But real time social interactions and play are much better for children than digital media for learning.
  • Encourage your child’s school to offer recess and playful learning approaches in addition to more structured learning approaches like reading, memorization and worksheets.

Play as a Toxic Stress Buster

In addition to boosting a child’s health and development, play helps to build the safe, stable and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress and build social-emotional resilience. The mutual joy and one-on-one interaction that happens during play can manage the body’s stress response, according to the AAP. In one study, 3- to 4-year-old children, anxious about entering preschool, were two times more likely to feel less stressed when allowed to play for 15 minutes, compared to classmates who listened to a story.

Types of Play: Mix it UpDifferent types of play have different benefits for children:
Toys and Object Play
When playing with an object such as a toy, babies are using their sensory-motor skills to explore its properties and conduct “experiments” like a tiny scientist might. To learn if an object is solid, for example, they might bang it on the floor. Preschool-age children also use objects to develop abstract thought and concepts like symbolism, using a banana as a telephone, for example, along with sharing and taking turns.
Physical Play
Physical fun such as free play during recess helps develop children’s motor skills, prevent childhood obesity and build emotional intelligence. The gentle thrill of a playground slide, for example, lets a child build confidence as they take risks in a relatively safe environment. Games such as duck-duck-goose and tag also help children build other socio-emotional skills such as empathy as children learn to be careful not to hurt others by tapping someone too hard, for example.Outdoor PlayOutdoor play, is particularly important because it lets children use all their senses to build skills like spatial awareness and balance. It can also improve a child’s attention span. Studies suggest that young children in countries where schools allow more time for recess see more academic success as children get older, yet an estimated 30% of U.S. kindergarten children no longer have recess.Pretend Play
This type of play lets young children experiment with different social roles and learn to cooperate. Dress up, make believe, and imaginary play also encourage creativity and builds more complex negotiation, communication and language skills. (“You be the teacher, and I will be the student,” a child might say.)


Giving your child plenty of opportunities to play is one of the best ways to help them grow into curious, creative, healthy, and happy adults equipped with the skills they need today. Next time your child asks to play with you, jump at the opportunity! Share the joy of discovery as you connect with each other and the world around you.

2. Fitness

The Active Toddler

Physical activity is important for children of all ages. Of course, it may seem that your own toddler gets all the exercise he needs as he’s constantly on the move from sunup to bedtime. He’s crawling, walking, learning to run and jump, climbing onto and down from furniture without help, and kicking a ball or pulling toys behind him while walking.

By 2 to 3 years of age, your child’s physical activity will move to even more challenging levels. As his coordination keeps improving, he’ll be able to walk up and down stairs. He’ll run easily and start learning to pedal a tricycle. With his short attention span, he may be moving from one activity to the next, almost minute by minute, keeping you on the run just to stay up with him.

We can’t overemphasize how important this active play is. To encourage it in your toddler, you should be discouraging him from watching TV. The AAP believes strongly that children up to 2 years should not be watching any TV, choosing instead to participate in supervised physical activity outdoors and indoors. Encourage them to play with siblings or other children their own age. When planning family activities, make them as active as possible.

You can also promote physical activity by using the stroller judiciously. When you’re out for a walk, don’t automatically sit your toddler in the stroller for the entire trip. Let him get out and walk beside you if that’s what he wants to do.

If your toddler attends child care, find out how active he is there. In too many child care settings, the TV set and not the kids gets a real workout during the day. Safety should also be a big concern while your toddler is in the child care setting whether he’s playing or eating. Request that he always be seated while being fed,  rather than running around with food in his mouth on which he could end up choking.

2. Fitness

Sports and Visual Ability in Toddlers

Vision is not mature in this age group, and toddlers have difficulty tracking a moving object and figuring out how fast it is speeding toward them. This poor score on visual skills is related to eye movements that are not precise, minor farsightedness, and incomplete development of vision centers in the brain. Hopefully, this information makes it is easier to see why it is difficult for some kids in this age group to hit or catch a moving ball in tennis, basketball, football, softball, baseball, or volleyball, or judge an upcoming wall for a flip turn.

It is not simply a lack of coordination or just needing more practice; it is a lack of true visual maturity that is the culprit. Now that age-old phrase of hand-eye coordination finally makes more sense! If 4-year-old Jermaine cannot hit or catch a ball you throw at him in the backyard 100 times, please repeat after me—“Jermaine is not a failure at sports.”

Congratulations and hats off to organizations like Little League baseball that have adapted to make up for the natural deficits at this age with such activities as T-ball. Toddlers and young children can do much better if they are allowed to kick or swing at a stationary ball.

Many sports situations would be better for kids if the ball sizes, playing fields, equipment, and practice times were more custom-made for those young learning beings.

2. Fitness

Sports Instruction: A Toddler’s Mental Capacity

Toddlers have short attention spans (surprise, surprise). They also focus excessive attention on single items no matter their importance (no kidding!). That is why Johnny may be so distracted by an odd looking bug or brightly colored flower that he is completely oblivious of a ball or player going by.

Periods of instruction should have as few surrounding distractions as possible and are usually most effective when given as show-and-tell. Youngsters require small amounts of information because the proverbial “too much information” can overload even the most interested toddler in the group. Young children are still concrete thinkers and have difficulty with abstract thinking or processing complex instructions.


Skills are acquired primarily through unstructured play, so active play such as tag should be encouraged. If there is any organized play, it should be very brief, with the majority of time spent having children just playing among themselves. Frequent changes of players should occur to expose children to different positions. Do not keep score. True competition offers no advantage and should be avoided during this age group.

The primary goals of sports activity for toddlers and young children should be playfulness, experimentation, exploration, and having fun. Shudder at the thought, I know, but face the facts. Children just begin to develop the intellectual and thinking skills necessary for next-level activities and safety at around ages 5 to 6 years. And if that did not make you gasp, this one will—research shows that participation in sports programs during the toddler years does not seem to give any long-term advantage for future sports performance. Uh-oh, does that mean that spending 3 hours a day practicing with your 4-year-old daughter won’t make her a better kindergarten or grade-school athlete? That’s right. Specific skills can be refined by repetitive practice only after the right level of motor development has been reached. Basic ground-level activities for children such as walking, running, swimming, tumbling activities in beginner dance and gymnastics, basic soccer, basic martial arts, and skating are suggested appropriate activities. In addition, walking, running, and swimming are activities that also develop fundamental skills that are important for safety throughout life.

These activities can form sturdy foundations for exercise and sports participation on which future skills can be building blocks for the Great Wall of Sports. A few words of caution, however—just because these activities can be started early in life does not mean that these sports should be aggressively pursued early in life. We have all seen Olympic moments showing the rise of sports stars who started their sport at age 3. But that does not mean they started training substantially or competing heavily at 3 years of age. These situations are often misinterpreted by other parents and young athletes because we don’t always know the rest of the story. Those youth later became Olympians because of many more factors than an early start date, and research from the US Olympic Committee shows that most Olympians distinctly point out that they had support from their parents, were not pressured, and stayed in their sport because of the love of the sport and because they had fun. Sports activities may be started early if approached with a non-pressure attitude that focuses only on basic skills and not with the presumption that this is the beginning of an Olympic or professional debut.

2. Fitness

Playing is How Toddlers Learn

​​​Play is how your toddler explores and learns about the world as they grow and develop. 

As a parents or caregiver, you can support and encourage this play. Allow your child lots of time to play, and join in the fun when you can!

Play is how young children start to get ready for school

  • They learn how to feel comfortable being with other children, and how to be a good friend.
  • Play gets children ready for learning—paying attention to adults, playing nicely with others, and feeling comfortable being away from their parents.
  • Pretend play is one way children learn about difficult feelings like anger and fear.

TIP: Make the places in your home where you spend a lot of time safe places where your child can play and be supervised easily. Give your child lots of time to explore with things like water, sand, boxes, or any other safe item that your child finds interesting.

TIP: Provide simple and safe items, like plastic cups and plates, pots and pans, books, blocks, play tools, and crayons. This way, your child can copy your actions and work. Items should be stored in a safe place or in a container where children can easily see and get to them.

TIP: Describe what’s going on to your child:

  • “I see you drew a brown circle.”
  • “What a long jump you made!”

TIP: Ask questions.

  • “How did you make this yummy soup?”
  • “What will happen next?”

TIP: Find items that match your child’s interests. If your child likes to watch ants crawl along the sidewalk, read a book about insects!

TIP: Visit special places related to your child’s interests. You can start with a visit to your local library. You will get ideas for future play.

When you let your child guide the activities, you get a window into the delightful world of a toddler—a world where everything is new and full of possibility.

Child’s play can be hard work for parents

Playing with your child takes a lot of time and energy. When you are tired, your toddler will know it. Find time for yourself. Maybe your family can help out, or perhaps a friend will watch your child for a few hours. You will come back with more energy and joy. If you are having fun, chances are your child is having fun, and learning, too.

If you find yourself losing patience, it’s a sign that you need some time for yourself! Let people know when you need support or help. If you feel bored or anxious a lot of the time, talk with your pediatrician.

It helps to find company for you and your child

  • Many libraries have story hours.
  • ​Community centers and YMCAs often have play groups.
  • Find a popular playground where you can meet other parents with young children.
  • Child care provides an opportunity for your child to meet others.
2. Fitness

From Motor Skills to Sports Skills

Children in the 2- to 5-year-old age group get their motivation and develop motor skills from self-play behaviors. Active games and play in the backyard, with friends at the park, or in heavily padded rooms can provide great sources of exercise in addition to nurturing that important relationship between parent and child.

Toddlers and preschoolers spend a lot of time just trying to master basic fundamental skills such as running, skipping, kicking, jumping, hopping, catching, and throwing. Kids acquire most of these skills by early elementary school.

Adults may not be able to understand that these activities really do take some effort for children. Much of the maturation process of controlling movement in children involves being able to move in different ways without falling over. Obviously, mastering those basic skills is a fundamental step children have to complete before they can proceed much further.

Infants may rely mostly on visual and oral information, but toddlers move away from the mouth being Command Central. They begin to process signals and cues from their brains and inner ears that may even cause a temporary decrease in their ability to maintain good balance as they approach their fourth or fifth birthdays.

Children can become overloaded with these signals while walking or running, and they must concentrate just to stay upright. Putting all of their attention into balance control may temporarily interfere with their ability to improve performance in other skills if there are other variables in the environment, such as many other players or uneven playing surfaces. Certainly with time, the act of jumping up and down and running around becomes easier without requiring as much focus to stay vertical.

If we could see what is going on in the minds of some young children, it might be very educational. While adults are yelling, “Get the ball! Get the ball!” the child may be thinking, “Don’t fall down! Don’t fall down!” That is why early soccer teams have been referred to as beehive soccer—many players simply swarm and follow the ball just trying to kick it, much to the dismay of the coach, who realizes that none of them are following the instructions of the detailed play outlined just moments before.

There is obviously a wide range of abilities in this age group, but relatively few children are really talented at these basic skills. It has been found that fewer than one third of 2- to 5-year-olds are truly effective at throwing and catching.

2. Fitness


At this age, your child will seem to be continually on the go—running, kicking, climbing, jumping. This yearlong energy spurt certainly will keep you on the go. But take heart—his activity level will strengthen his body and develop his coordination.