Activity Tips for Children

How do your children spend their free time on the weekends and after school? Do they play in the backyard or at the park? Do they play on swings, ride their bikes, rollerblade or skateboard with their friends? Or do they spend long hours watching television or playing computer games?

Research shows that up to 25% of Australian children are overweight or obese1. Overweight children often grow into overweight adults who are then at risk of developing a number of health problems such as diabetes, hypertension,
heart disease and some cancers.
Our lifestyle today has become increasingly sedentary. Both adults and children rely more on gadgets and services which reduce the amount of activity they participate in during their day. Lifts, escalators, remote control garage doors,
TV’s and videos, internet shopping, home delivery of take-away foods – all of these reduce the amount of physical
activity we engage in. In fact, research shows that Australian children now watch between 20-30 hours of television every week – and they don’t even have to move to change the channel2.
Physical activity plays a major role in maintaining a healthy body weight and that is why it is so important to encourage children to keep moving3.Children are naturally active; they simply need encouragement, ideas and suggestions for activities. 

Infants (birth to 1 year)

Giving babies the chance to move around freely each day helps to keep their bodies and minds active. Moving freely allows babies to further develop their senses as well as good posture, strength and balance. Interacting with others through play gives young infants the opportunity to develop language and communication skills. Some simple play activities and exercises for young babies include:

  • Tummy time on the floor to strengthen head, neck and trunk muscles
  • Placing objects out of reach to encourage babies to practice new movements
  • Holding and feeling a variety of objects to develop touch and recognition skills
  • Outdoor play to encourage learning in different environments

Toddlers and pre-schoolers (1 to 5 years)

A child’s job is to move freely and be active every day! Toddlers and pre-schoolers should be physically active for at least three hours each day, and this activity should be spread throughout the day. Active play helps young children improve the health of their muscles, bones and heart, develop new movement skills, build self confidence and improve their communication and social skills. Some examples of activities that young children may enjoy include:

  • Action games and songs such as ‘The Hokey Pokey’
  • Free play in playgrounds or sandpits
  • Pedalling a bike
  • Riding a scooter

School aged children 

5-12 years

According to the Department of Health, children aged between 5 to 12 years need at least 60 minutes and up to several hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day4. Moreover, children should not spend more than two hours a day using electronic media for entertainment (e.g. computer games, TV, internet).
Active play, informal games and organised sports provide good opportunities for children to develop a range of skills including running, throwing, jumping, catching and kicking. Playing sport can help children build their confidence and gives them the opportunity to partake in a wide range of activities as they get older. Children should be encouraged to participate in a variety of activities that are fun and that suit their interests, skills and abilities. Examples include bike riding, football, running and swimming lap

12-18 years

Teenagers are generally independent when it comes to making decisions about the type and amount of activity they wish to participate in. However, the Department of Health recommends that those between the ages of 12 to 18 years should be encouraged to spend at least 60 minutes engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activities each day5. It is important for teens to limit the amount of time they spend watching TV, surfing the net and playing computer games to no more than two hours each day (unless, of course, it’s for educational purposes).
Moderate activities include brisk walking, bike riding with friends, skateboarding and dancing. Vigorous activities include football, netball, soccer, running, swimming or training for sport. For an additional health benefit, teens should be encouraged to participate in 20 minutes or more of vigorous activity on three to four days each week. Participating in a variety of activities allows teens to experience a range of fun activities and challenges and provides the opportunity to learn new skills.

Tips for choosing the right physical activities for your child

Physical activity should be a fun and positive experience for children so that they stay motivated and do not become discouraged. It is important to choose activities that complement your child’s ability, though participating in an activity that is slightly more difficult will give your child the opportunity to develop new skills. For example, if your child lacks the coordination skills required to catch a ball, it might be a good idea to encourage them to keep on practising, but in a non-threatening and non-competitive environment.
Activity doesn’t have to be in the form of structured sport, but it is important that children are encouraged to become involved in group activities and be given the opportunity to participate. In addition to preventing weight problems, involving your child in a sporting team and/or club will help them learn valuable life skills. From team sports, children learn discipline, coordination, communication skills and team work and may develop a passion for their chosen sport that will continue into adult life. Exercise also helps to reduce feelings of stress which are common during adolescence.
Finding the right sport for your child may take a little time, patience and commitment but will be worth it in the long run. To find out about sport opportunities that are available in your area, contact your local library or community centre or check your child’s school for information.

Family activities

There are so many non-structured ways to encourage children to be active, and many of these can involve the whole family. If you’re looking for ways to get active with your family, why not try the following:
  • Walk to school together
  • Visit the beach with a cricket bat/ball and Frisbee
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Do some backyard gardening or build a veggie patch
  • Visit the local swimming pool
  • Go the park with a footy and play equipment
  • Ride your bikes to a favourite local picnic spot
  • Organise a bush walk in the hills or outer city
  • Find outings that involve walking - visit the zoo or a museum
  • Do a community walk (e.g. a ‘city to surf’ fun run/walk)
  • Choose presents for children that encourage activity, for example, kites, outdoor equipment or gift vouchers to outdoor activity parks, canoe hire and roller rinks


  1. Overweight and Obesity in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing; [updated Oct 2011; cited Oct 2011]. Available from:
  2. Square eyes and couch potatoes: children’s participation in screen based activities [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics; [updated Jan 2011; cited Oct 2011]. Available from:,Children%27s+Participation+in+Screen-based+Activities?OpenDocument  
  3. Get Up & Grow: Healthy eating and physical activity for early childhood [Internet]. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing; [updated Aug 2011; cited Oct 2011]. Available from:   
  4. Australia’s Physical Activity Recommendations for 5-12 year olds [Internet]. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing; [updated Dec 2004; cited Oct 2011]. Available from:   
  5. Australia’s Physical Activity Recommendations for 12-18 year olds [Internet]. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing; [updated Jun 2005; cited Oct 2011]. Available from:

Updated October 2011

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