Active Play (Child Care Manual)

As children move their bodies throughout the day, they find it to be a source of joy, self-expression, creativity and learning. This makes the early years a key time to promote life-long active habits.

2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth

It is often assumed that young children are naturally active. However, the Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth shows the opposite. According to the most recent report released in 2018 by ParticipACTION, Canada received a D+ grade for overall physical activity for children and youth, a slight improvement from the D- assigned grade in 2016.

Canadian Kids are sitting too much and moving too little to reach their full potential. Physical activity plays an important role in helping children and youth learn better, solve problems more creatively and develop healthier brains.
- 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card

The report card is the most comprehensive assessment of child and youth physical activity in Canada. The assessment is divided into three categories:

  • Strategies and investment (government)
  • Settings and sources of influence (family and peer, school, community and environment)
  • Individual characteristics (physical literacy, physical fitness) and daily behaviours (overall physical activity, active play and leisure activities, active transportation, organized sport participation, physical education, sedentary behaviours, sleep, 24-hour movement behaviours)

Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth

Initially released in the 2016 ParticipACTION Report Card, the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth are the first evidence-based guidelines that integrates all movement behaviour occurring over a whole day: physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep.

These guidelines are considered as the gold standard for active living by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. The full detailed guidelines and other related resources can be downloaded on the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Guidelines Information Hub.

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Physical activity guidelines for children

0 to 4 years

Infants (aged less than 1 year) should be physically active several times in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play - more is better. For those not yet mobile, at least 30 minutes of tummy time throughout the day is recommended.

Toddlers (aged 1 to 2 years) and preschoolers (3 to 4 years) should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of physical activities throughout the day, including energetic plan - more is better. Progression towards at least 60 minutes of energetic play for preschoolers is recommended.

5 to 17 years

For optimal health benefits, an accumulation of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity is needed. This should include the following activities:

  • Vigorous-intensity activities, including a variety of aerobic activities, at least three days per week
  • Activities that strengthen muscle and bone, at least three days per week
  • Several hours of a variety of structured and unstructured light physical activities, for example, walking to school

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Sedentary behaviour guidelines for children

0 to 4 years

For healthy growth and development, children of four years and younger should not be restrained for more than one hour at a time, for example in a stroller or high chair.

Sedentary screen time is generally not recommended, with a gradual progression of no more than one hour for preschoolers (aged 3 to 4 years) - less is better. Activities such as reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.

5 to 17 years

No more than two hours per day of recreational screen time is recommended. Sitting for extended periods of time should be limited when possible. Consider replacing sedentary behaviour with outdoor time and light physical activity for greater health benefits.

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Sleep behaviour guidelines for children

0 to 4 years

For infants of less than one year, 14 to 17 hours (for those aged 0 to 3 months), or 12 to 16 hours (for those aged 4 to 11 months) of good quality sleep is recommended, including naps.

For toddles (aged 1 to 2 years), 11 to 14 hours of good-quality sleep, including naps, with consistent bedtimes and wake-up times is recommended.

For preschoolers (aged 3 to 4 years), 10 to 13 hours of good-quality sleep with consistent bedtimes and wake-up times is recommended. This may include nap times.

5 to 17 years

For those aged 5 to 13 years, nine to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night is recommended.

For those aged 14 to 17 years, eight to 10 hours of sleep per night is recommended. To preserve sufficient sleep, all children and youth will benefit from consistent bed and wake up times.

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Canadian Child Care Federation

Moving and Growing
Moving and Growing is a series designed to help children and adults develop lifelong habits of physical activity. Each illustrated booklet outlines the benefits of physical activity, how to choose appropriate activities, how to encourage physical activity and what children's developmental skills are by age group.

  • Physical Activities for the First Two Years
  • Physical Activities for Twos, Threes and Fours
  • Physical Activities for Fives and Sixes
  • Physical Activities for Sevens and Eights

You can purchase a copy of Moving and Growing by filling out an order form from the Canadian Child Care Federation.

Resource Sheets

  • Supporting your child’s physical activity
  • Building a Lifelong Habit of Physical Activity
  • Bringing Back Physical Activity Play in Childhood

Toronto Public Health

Moving on the Spot
Get kids moving and have fun… any time and any place. Moving on the Spot is a poster of a collection of ready-made stretch and movement activities that need little space and no special equipment. These activities can be done "on the spot" in just five to 10 minutes. You can order the poster for free by calling Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600.

Rainbow Fun
A physical activity and healthy eating program for children 3 to 6 years. It includes information and interactive activities for child care providers, educators and parents. Use Rainbow Fun for approximately 20 minutes every day. It does not require special equipment and can be used indoors or outdoors.

Outdoors: The Ultimate Playground
A physical activity resource for child care providers, educators and parents of children 6 to 12 years of age. It provides games that encourages children to be physically active throughout the year.

Best Start Resource Centre

Have a Ball Together!
This website encourages physical activity for young children 0 to 6 years of age. Physical activity is an important part of a child’s development and the early years are the best time for children to develop movement skills and physical literacy. This will help them grow, be healthy and enjoy physical activity throughout their life. Have a Ball Together! gives you tools and resources to get children active through games, activities, learning, and play.

Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (OPHEA)

Aims to support healthy, active living in schools and communities through quality programs and services, partnerships and advocacy. They provide a diverse set of resources and education tools to help foster healthy, active living in all children and youth.

Active for Life

A Canadian not-for-profit created to help parents give their children the right start in life through the development of physical literacy. They feature tools, like the printable Recipe for an Active Year, to promote the different ways of staying active all year long.

Canadian Sport for Life

Physical literacy is developing fundamental movement skills, leading to fundamental sport skills in various decision-making situations in a variety of environments. This resource is an introduction to physical literacy.

Ontario Society of Physical Activity Promoters in Public Health (OSPAPPH)

Represents public health practitioners who promote physical activity in their communities. The society has developed key messages for public health on physical literacy along with provincial policy recommendations.

Ontario Active School Travel

Formerly Active and Safe Routes to School, Ontario Active School Travel is a program of Green Communities Canada that aims to promote daily active travel as the main mode of transportation for students to and from schools. Promoting active school travel is a strategy take up by many schools across Canada to combat the declining levels of physical activity among children and youth. Active school travel can account up to 30 per cent of the daily recommended physical activity.

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Last updated: Sept. 30, 2019

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