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Getting Your Child Involved in Exercise

What parents can do to encourage healthy habits in their children


Updated January 22, 2012

Getting your child involved in fitness at a young age is one of the best things you can do to establish a lifetime of healthy activity. How do you get started or select the right activities for your child? The following tips and guides for parents are recommended by IDEA Health & Fitness Association.

Ages 2 To 5

During this time children master many basic movement skills, such as:

  • catching
  • rolling
  • bouncing
  • kicking and tossing a ball
  • hitting a ball with a bat
  • jumping
  • hopping
  • skipping
  • running
  • walking on a straight line or low balance beam
  • doing a running jump
  • pedaling a tricycle
  • galloping
  • Children this age love to use their imagination.

What to Do When Your Child is this Age
Parents need to foster social, intellectual and physical development during these "building block" years. The skills learned during this time lay a solid foundation for grasping more complicated sports and activities. Learning the basics will help your child experience success later on.

Try taking your child to movement classes that encourage individual creativity and teach the child to control his or her body in space. At home, try telling imaginary stories about animals or storybook characters and let your child act out the stories. Emphasize movement as play, and be sure to encourage and praise your child’s desire to explore movement.

Ages 5 To 8
Children in this age range can use basic motor skills to build complex movements. For example, instead of just hitting a stationary ball with a bat, they can practice hitting a ball when it’s rolling or in the air. They can play longer and harder than younger children, which means their fitness levels can improve. Some children become interested in organized group or team play, but not a competitive level.

What to Do When Your Child is this Age
Enrolling your child in noncompetitive group sports or group movement classes is a good idea. Your child should experience bike riding, roller skating, ice skating and a host of other activities. A wide range of physical experience will help your child figure out his or her likes and dislikes. Commend your child for trying different activities, even if they aren't your favorites.

Ages 8 To 10
Children can now participate effectively in team and partner activities and continue to improve their fitness levels. Appropriate physical activities can strengthen their hearts, lungs, muscles and bones. Children this age lack the needed hormones for large muscle development.

The decline in children's physical activity often begins during this age range, according to Kenneth Cooper, MD, MPH, author of Kid Fitness. Kids become self-conscious and compare themselves to their peers. Children who develop early have a physical advantage and may be intimidating to other kids their age.

What to Do When Your Child is this Age
Team sports and group classes are recommended, if your child shows interest. Remember to be extremely supportive! At home, help your child celebrate speed and endurance successes by keeping a logbook on how fast he or she can walk half a mile or get from one end of the block to the other. Understand extreme supervision and given effective program design, your child may also enjoy the benefits of strength training. Getting stronger improves a child’s attitude and self-esteem.

Ages 10 To 12
Children can continue to play on teams, as well as participate in individual activities, like walking, swimming, skating, etc. They can take part in different dance forms, such as folk dancing, line dancing and hip hop. Peer acceptance will influence which activities many children choose. Major hormonal changes occur in children at this age. Puberty finds many children feeling awkward and unattractive as their physical bodies mature.

What to Do When Your Child is this Age
Look for programs and classes that focus on developmental levels (i.e., beginner, intermediate, advanced) as opposed to chronological age, since kids mature at different rates. Work with your child to develop a fitness schedule that he or she likes. Kids’ fitness expert Debi Pillarella, MEd, suggests purchasing youth-sized steps or jump ropes and letting your child have a special workout area in your home. Let your child play his or her favorite music as a source of motivation.

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