The first-ever physical-activity guide for babies, toddlers, and pre-K kids has just been issued. "Motor skills develop naturally in the first few years of a child's life, but even infants can be encouraged as they master such basic movements as sitting, standing, and walking," says Jane Clark, Ph.D., chair of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education's task force for physical activity from birth to 5 years. As children get older, "teaching them how to gallop, throw, and catch is just as important as the alphabet and colors," she says.
Here are the recommendations: Infants need daily physical activities that help them explore their environment. Let them play in safe spaces, and don't restrict activity for too long a time by confining your baby to a small play space, playpen, or infant seat. Promote movement skills. For example, place a favorite toy just out of your infant's reach so she's motivated to go after it. Toddlers should have 30 minutes of adult-guided activity a day, such as chasing a ball or dancing. Preschoolers should have at least an hour of play that helps develop their physical skills, and no more than an hour at a time sitting still.
Both toddlers and preschoolers also need at least one hour a day of unstructured physical playtime. Being active not only is good for the body but is also linked with early brain development. Says Clark: "What better way for a child to learn than by physically engaging the world?"