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Active Children

Active play for young children

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Play is one of the most important ways babies and young children learn. When your child plays, they:

  • build a healthy body and mind
  • learn about their world
  • learn about themselves
  • build life-long skills
  • learn to build positive relationships

Here you will learn the benefits of active play, how much play time your child needs, and how to help your child move throughout the day.

Active play

There are different types of play, such as active, creative, and pretend play.

Active play is a way for babies and young children to move their arms, legs, and bodies. Active play lets them practise grasping, crawling, walking, running, throwing, kicking, and climbing. These skills are the building blocks that give them the confidence to be active and healthy for life and are a foundation for life-long learning.


Active play can help your baby or young child:

  • develop balance and strength
  • cope with stress
  • learn to solve problems
  • learn to get along with others by sharing and taking turns

Basic movement skills develop in stages. With lots of active play, your baby or young child will learn to:

  • move their arms, legs, and bodies with purpose
  • roll, sit, and crawl
  • pull themselves up to stand and walk, then run, jump, and kick

As they grow, they will put all these skills together to play games and sports.

Play by age

Give your baby or young child lots of time to be active with you and others throughout the day.

Babies (less than 1 year old)

Babies need to be active throughout the day. Play on the floor with them many times a day. Babies who do not crawl or walk yet can have supervised tummy time while they are awake for at least 30 minutes spread throughout the day.

Always stay with your baby to keep them safe and put away anything that could hurt them.

Toddlers (1 and 2 years old)

Toddlers need to be active for at least 180 minutes (3 hours) spread throughout the day, with a variety of activities such as crawling, fast walking, or dancing.

Pre-schoolers (3 and 4 years old)

Pre-schoolers need to be active for at least 180 minutes (3 hours) spread throughout the day, with at least 60 minutes of that time as energetic play. Energetic play—such as running or bike riding—makes your child sweat and breathe heavier.

Children (5 years and older)

Older children need to be active for at least 60 minutes (1 hour) spread throughout the day, with a variety of activities such as hopping, running, and bike riding.

At least 3 days a week, they also need to do vigorous physical activities that make their muscles and bones stronger. Examples of these activities are jumping, skipping, or playing sports.

Build in lots of ways for older children to move their bodies throughout the day. For example, they can walk to school, play hopscotch, and play at the playground.

To learn more about play and physical activity for your child’s age, visit Healthy Parents, Healthy Children.

Tips to encourage active play

When you are active with your child, you show them that being active is important. Children of active parents are more likely to be active themselves.

Here are tips to help your young child be active:

  • Set aside time throughout the day for your child to play alone, with you, and with others.
  • Let your child decide what they want to do and follow their lead. Watch what they do, then wait, listen, and respond.
  • Get close to your child and make eye contact when you play together.
  • Have fun and let your child see how much you enjoy play time.
  • Encourage your child, and comment on what they are doing.
  • Make a play box with clothes and other items your child can play with safely.
  • Keep a list of different play ideas and supplies to keep your child interested and help them practice different skills.

Sedentary behaviour

Sitting or lying down for a long time while awake is called sedentary behaviour. It can affect your child’s growth, development, language skills, ability to learn, and sleep.

Research suggests children do best when they are active throughout the day and not sedentary for more than 1 hour at a time, unless they are asleep.

Try to limit the time your baby or young child sits in a stroller, car seat, or highchair to less than 1 hour at a time.

Screen time

Sedentary behaviour can also include screen time, such as watching TV, playing video games, and being on the computer, mobile phone, or tablet.

Research shows that babies and toddlers are not likely to learn from screens. Your child learns best through face-to-face interactions with you and other caregivers.

The screen time recommendations for babies and young children are:

  • Under 2 years old: No screen time.
  • 2 to 4 years old: Less than 1 hour a day.
  • 5 years and older: 2 hours or less a day. This does not include time on screens doing their schoolwork.

Some activities—such as playing with toys, reading, drawing, and doing crafts—are done while sitting or lying down. These activities help your child with their development.

To learn about why being active is important for babies and young children, visit ParticipACTION.

Current as of: April 23, 2024

Author: Healthy Children and Families, Alberta Health Services