Encourage your child to be active indoors and out all year long
BY KRISTINE HAYWARD
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2011
One of my duties as a co-ordinator with
Winnipeg in motion is to respond to calls on
our information line from Winnipeggers looking for
ways to add physical activity to their day.
Recently, I received a call from a parent
looking for physical activity programs for
her two-year-old daughter.
She was frustrated at the lack of
structured physical activity programs
available in her area of the city for infants
and toddlers. Many programs focus on
pre-school age children - three- and fouryear
olds - or school age children. The
few programs that she did find came with
a hefty price tag due to the need for more
adult supervision for the under-two age
This made me stop and think about
how times have changed. When I was
young, there was more emphasis on play
rather than structured programs. Kids just
went outside and played. I remember
playing in the front yard, building a snow
pile to slide down, or venturing to local
parks, which were aptly named "tot lots."
This unstructured playtime was a chance
to use my imagination, discover nature
and play until I was ready for lunch and
an afternoon nap. The first structured
program I remember being a part of was
swimming, which I started once I was in
Today, we have moved away from
appreciating the value of active play and
have geared our preferences to structured
programs, even for infants and toddlers.
So, what is the difference between
structured and unstructured physical
activity, and is one more important than
Structured play includes programs at
a local community centre, or an activity
where a parent or another adult leads
the activity. Unstructured play allows
children to play and discover on their
own, under your supervision.
Although there are overall benefits
to being physically active at every age,
structured and unstructured opportunities
offer many pros and cons for both
children and their parents.
One of the biggest benefits for parents
is that a structured program can introduce
your child to activity and skills that you
don't currently have, thus expanding
opportunities your child would not be
exposed to normally. The downside is
that often the time, location and cost of
structured programs serve as a barrier
to participation for families. Children
younger than two years of age often
require naps, and schedules become
unpredictable, making it tough to attend
programs regularly. This points to the
biggest benefit of unstructured play: it can
be done anywhere, at any time, making
it easier to fit into your day. It also gets
children to explore, experiment and
problem-solve, which are valuable skills
to have as they get older.
So, how much physical activity does
an infant, toddler or preschooler need to
grow into a healthy, active adult?
The Public Health Agency of Canada
recently revamped the physical activity
guidelines for Canadians, but those
guidelines currently start at the age
of five. The absence of guidelines for
children under the age of five does
not mean that physical activity is not
important. We know that lifestyle patterns
set before the age of six can predict overall health and obesity later in life. It is
globally accepted that children one to five years
of age should get between 90 minutes and two
hours of physical activity, through both structured
and unstructured play, every day.
How can you translate this into action?
Encourage your child to play and explore - both
indoors and outdoors - in all seasons. Take your
child outside, explore the parks, playgrounds
and trails in your neighbourhood. Provide them
with opportunities to practise the fundamental
movement skills of running, jumping, throwing
and balancing. Practise tossing rolled-up socks or
small, soft balls into a laundry basket. Jump over
cracks in the sidewalks. Hop on one foot and
balance on curbs.
It is also important to limit sedentary activities.
The Canadian Pediatric Association recommends
that children under the age of two spend no time
watching TV, while screen time for those over
the age of two should be limited to a maximum
of two hours. For children of all ages, avoid
extended periods of time spent in strollers and
car seats. Most of all, pass along the value of
physical activity by acting as a role model for
your kids. Structured or unstructured, be active
together and just have fun!
Kristine Hayward is a co-ordinator with Winnipeg in motion.
Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.
Read the Nov. / Dec. 2011 issue of Wave