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There are many fun and simple ways to encourage active play with your toddler or preschooler even when you're stuck inside due to bad weather. Most experts agree that young children need more than 60 minutes of active playtime each day. It would be better if toddlers (13-24 months) had at least 90 minutes of active play each day and at least 120 minutes for preschool (2-5 years old) age children. Toddlers and preschoolers typically get this physical activity through active play rather than structured physical activity; however, they can start to do some basic exercises as long as you keep it fun and age appropriate. When possible, physical activity should be a combination of indoor and outdoor play.

What counts as physical activity or active play? Any movement of the body that increases your child’s heart rate and breathing above what it would be if the child was sitting or resting.

Another way to encourage movement is to limit the amount of time that your child spends seated. When doing seated activities such as coloring, art projects, reading stories or watching TV try to limit the time to about 15 minutes at a time. Then do something different that encourages more movement.

Children tend to be more active when they are around other children. Try having a play date to encourage active play. Even though the weather is colder, it is still important to let your children play outside. Do your best to dress them appropriately for the weather, but let them have the opportunity to play outside if even for a few minutes. Don't let the rain or the snow keep you inside all the time; think of it as a learning opportunity for your child.

10 Ways to Encourage Active Play 

1. Play with your child. This sounds simple, but as parents we often find ourselves busy with household responsibilities or spending too much time on our phones or tablets. Join your child on the floor and play together. Pretend to be animals, cars or shooting stars together. Your children will love to see you being silly with them.

2. Create a safe play area in your home with room to move. We love to use our unfinished basement and even our garage to ride tricycles and scooters. Push and pull toys are great for encouraging movement too. Use whatever space you have and try to push the furniture or toys out of the way so they have a clear area to move around freely.

3. Dance Party! Turn up the music and be silly together. Take turns making up dance moves, play air guitar, or rock out on the drums. Try to teach them the concept of stop and go by dancing when the music plays and freezing when you stop the music. Kids will get a chance to be creative, learn to listen and improve coordination and balance as they try to stop after being in motion.

4. Act out stories or try to imitate the movements that are part of the story. A fun example is to read I Am Not Going to Get up Today! by Dr. Seuss and each time the word "up" is read have your child stand up and sit down. Here are a few more action book ideas.  

5. Use lightweight scarves while dancing to encourage more movement. Children will naturally move the scarf as they dance, but you can encourage specific movements such as "move it high, move it low, move it slow, move it fast, etc." Change your directions based on the rhythms of the music.

6. Play 'Hide and Seek' in the house. This age-old game is a great way to get kids moving, just make sure they have safe places to hide. If you need to, set rules on which rooms they are allowed to hide in before you start.

7. Have a Parade! Get out or make a few silly hats, play fun, upbeat music. Lead your children in a parade and encourage them to do simple movements like marching, galloping or jumping. If you have instruments like maracas, bells or castanets get them out too.

8. Create an obstacle course using pillows, cushions, tunnels, cardboard boxes, hula hoops, etc. Get creative and ask your children what they want to include in the course. Think of items that would encourage children to climb over, under, through, around, in and out.

9. Sock Toss. This simple and inexpensive idea helps children practice throwing skills. All you need is pairs of socks and a laundry basket or box to catch the socks. Start with the basket about two feet away. Toss the socks underhand into the basket. This is a great opportunity to practice taking turns by saying, "MY turn, YOUR turn." Use the colors or patterns on the socks to encourage your child to sort by those attributes. "Let's start with all the white socks; then we will throw the blue socks next."

10. Parachute Play. You've probably seen the huge parachutes that children often use in PE class for activity, but in your own home you can easily use a large towel or blanket instead. While holding the edges try to keep an object on top while you and your children are moving your arms up and down.

The most important tip of all is to have fun! Remember, parents need physical activity everyday too, why not make it active play with your kids?

Audra Losey MS RD

Registered Dietitian from UNL Extension

Audra Losey is a wife and mom of two young children. She is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in Community Nutrition and Health Promotion and dual bachelor degrees in Exercise Science and Dietetics. Audra is employed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Nutrition Education Program teaching limited resource families in Douglas and Sarpy counties about healthy eating on a budget. She's especially interested in teaching kids about food and physical activity, and connect ...

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