Preschoolers have a lot of energy, and they use it in a more organized way than when they were toddlers. Instead of just running around in the backyard, a preschooler has the physical skills and coordination to ride a tricycle or chase a butterfly.
Preschoolers are also discovering what it means to play with a friend instead of just alongside another child, as toddlers do. By being around other kids, a preschooler gains important social skills, such as sharing and taking turns. Despite occasional disputes, preschoolers learn to cooperate and interact during play.
Helping Kids Learn New Skills
Preschoolers develop important motor skills as they grow. New skills your preschooler may be showing off include hopping, jumping forward, catching a ball, doing a somersault, skipping and balancing on one foot. Help your child practice these skills by playing and exercising together.
Walking together sometimes can be dull for young kids, so try these ways to liven up your family stroll:
- Make your walk a scavenger hunt by giving your child something to find, like a red door, a cat, a flag and something square.
- Sing songs or recite nursery rhymes while you walk.
- Mix walking with jumping, racing, hopping and walking backwards.
- Make your walk together a mathematical experience as you emphasize numbers and counting: How many windows are on the garage door? What numbers are on the houses?
These kinds of activities are fun but also help to prepare kids for school.
How Much Activity Is Enough?
The National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) offers specific recommendations for preschoolers, saying they should:
- accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity that’s structured (meaning it’s organized by you or another adult)
- engage in at least 1 hour — and up to several hours — of free play
- not be inactive for more that 1 hour at a time, unless they are sleeping
It’s important to limit TV (including videos and DVDs) and computer time to no more than 1-2 hours per day.
Preschoolers are likely to get structured play at childcare or in preschool programs through games like “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “London Bridge.” Consider enrolling your child in a preschool tumbling or dance class.
Your preschooler can get structured outdoor play at home, too. Play together in the backyard or practice motor skills, such as throwing and catching a ball. Preschoolers also love trips to the playground.
Though many kids tend to gravitate toward the outdoors, lots of fun things can be organized indoors: a child-friendly obstacle course, a treasure hunt, or forts made out of sheets and boxes or chairs. Games like freeze dance or bounce catch are also fun. Designate a play area and clear the space of any breakables.
Unstructured or free play is when kids are left more to their own devices — within a safe environment. During these times, they should be able to choose from a variety of activities, such as exploring, playing with toys, painting and drawing, doing a puzzle or playing dress-up.
During pretend play, preschoolers often like to take on a gender-specific role because they are beginning to identify with members of the same gender. A girl might pretend to be her mother by “working” in the garden, while a boy might mimic his dad by pretending to cut the lawn.
It’s clear your preschooler is keeping an eye on how you spend your time, so set a good example by exercising regularly. Kids who pick up on this as something parents do will naturally want to do it, too.
No matter what type of physical activity your child gets, it’s important to keep safety concerns in mind. Remember that preschoolers are still developing coordination, balance and judgment. So as preschoolers play, a parent’s challenge is to find a balance between letting them try new things and doing what is necessary to keep them safe and prevent injuries. With that in mind:
- A child on a tricycle or bike should always wear a helmet.
- If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to talk about street safety, because even the most cautious preschooler may dart into the street after a ball.
- A preschooler in a swimming pool needs constant adult supervision, even if he or she has learned to swim.
- Giving kids safe opportunities to play in both organized and unstructured ways builds a foundation for a fit lifestyle that can carry them through life.