Encouraging Physical Activity in Toddlers

{Disclosure: We are thrilled to partner with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota to share helpful information about early childhood development for children ages zero to three. A host of additional early childhood resources are available on the Children’s website.}


In my field of work we are constantly talking to parents about keeping their toddlers active. Sometimes I am met with a look and I can tell they think I’m crazy. I mean, have you ever met a toddler that isn’t active? Toddlers by definition are active, busy beings that love to run, jump, kick and throw. However, it is important to have this conversation with parents. Encouraging their toddler’s innate desire to be active helps establish healthy habits that are so important for the long term. It is never too young to start encouraging and giving them ample opportunity to have physical activity be a part of their daily routine.

Encouraging Physical Activity in Toddlers | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Did you know that there are recommendations for physical activity for your toddler?

Physical activity guidelines for toddlers recommend that each day they:

  • get at least 30 minutes of structured (adult-led) physical activity
  • get at least 60 minutes of unstructured (free play) physical activity
  • not be inactive for more than 1 hour at a time except when sleeping

-Children’s Hospitals of MN, source

By the way, those recommendations look a lot like the recommendations for adults. So, use your toddler’s health as motivation for the entire family to be active.

Take a family walk or bike ride. Our family loves going for walks in the evening. It’s a chance for us to get exercise and bond together. My son is at an age where he doesn’t like the stroller. He prefers to walk, wait—run, beside us. Sometimes it can be frustrating because it takes a lot longer to get from point A to point B. But honestly, this is a great opportunity to embrace. It is a very good thing for our kids to prefer walking versus sitting. To make it fun we like to take turns chasing each other down the sidewalk. It’s a win-win situation. We all get exercise and our toddler gets tired out before bed time. Going on a bike ride is another excellent option.

Encouraging Physical Activity in Toddlers | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Play games. Toddlers love learning through games. Games not only encourage physical activity but also teach them to be social, take turns and play with others. Of course at this age they will need an adult to lead the game and things may be chaotic. As we know, toddlers are full of energy and have short attention spans. The beauty of games is that they can be done quickly throughout the day. It’s easy to fit them in here and there.  Some of our favorites are The Hokey Pokey, Hide and Seek, Follow the Leader, and Duck Duck Goose. Children’s has a great list of games that encourage physical activity in toddlers. I’ll be trying those on the next rainy day!

Active play. By nature toddlers are explorers and like active play. Encourage them to foster this nature.  My son loves playing swords and pretending to be ninja turtles. He loves jumping and climbing over things. Try an obstacle course around the house or in your yard. Wearing costumes or dressing up and role playing is another way to encourage activity. Turn on music and let loose with dancing. My son loves it when we pretend to be animals- we hop like bunnies, crawl like crabs, jump like frogs, slither like snakes (you get the idea). Try it for ten minutes and it will get your heart rate up!

Get outdoors. There is something about fresh air that motivates us all to be more active. We should be aiming to have our toddlers outside every single day if weather permits. In the warmer months it’s easy to be outdoors whether it’s at the playground, in the backyard or swimming pool. Go exploring or on a nature walk in the spring or fall. The winter months aren’t as easy as they force us to bundle up before heading out. Toddlers can enjoy the snow by sledding, building snowmen, having snowball fights and making snow angels. Honestly even rain can be fun. What toddler doesn’t love jumping in puddles?

Encouraging Physical Activity in Toddlers | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Be a role model. I mentioned keeping the entire family fit by being active together. Monkey see, monkey do. If they see you exercise, they will want to do it too! I’ve had to change my mindset when it comes to exercising at home. Whenever I say I’m going to exercise, my toddler excitedly says, “me too!” While I would prefer to have the time to myself and focus without interruption, it’s actually great that my toddler wants to join me. He will mimic my every move (even down to wearing a headband just like mama). It’s pretty cute. Sometimes I’ll even look for kid exercise videos on You Tube and we do them together. We also love going to watch dad play soccer. My toddler brings his own soccer ball and warms up with the team.

Sports. Organized sports are a great way to introduce your toddler to exercise. Whether it be soccer, karate, dance, gymnastics, swimming or T-ball, they all teach new skills and discipline. My toddler has been in weekly swimming lessons since he turned one year. I can’t wait to enroll him in soccer next year. If your situation doesn’t allow for formal sports classes, you can still have fun at home. Play catch with your toddler. Kick a soccer ball back and forth. Run sprints in the backyard, play basketball in the driveway, and teach them to pedal a tricycle.

Encouraging Physical Activity in Toddlers | Twin Cities Moms Blog

As you can see, it’s easy to encourage your toddler to be physically active. Just follow their (naturally active) lead and check out this site for even more ideas.


We all know Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN to be an incredible leader in healthcare, but they also have a wealth of resources to help you guide your child into the potential they already hold within them. You ARE your child’s greatest tool in learning and this month, we’re sharing a number of experiences from our team alongside the incredible amount of resources offered by Children’s Minnesota. Find more information on the Children’s website.

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