By the time kids are 4 to 5 years old, their physical skills like running, jumping, kicking, and throwing, have come a long way. Now they'll continue to refine these skills and build on them to learn more complex ones.

Take advantage of your child's natural tendency to be active. Feeling confident about his or her abilities builds self-esteem, and staying fit decreases the risk of serious illnesses later in life.

Fitness for Preschoolers

Physical activity guidelines for preschoolers recommend that each day:

  • they get at least 60 minutes of structured (adult-led) physical activity
  • they get at least 60 minutes of unstructured (free play) physical activity
  • they not be inactive for more than 1 hour at a time unless sleeping

It's important to understand what preschoolers can handle. They should participate in fun and challenging activities that help build skills and coordination but aren't beyond their abilities.

Kids this age are learning to hop, skip, and jump forward, and are eager to show off how they can balance on one foot (for 5 seconds or longer), catch a ball, or do a somersault. Preschoolers also might enjoy swimming, hiking, dancing, and riding a tricycle or bicycle with training wheels.

Many parents look to organized sports to get preschoolers active. But the average 4- or 5-year-old has not mastered even the basics, such as throwing, catching, and taking turns. Even simple rules may be hard for them to understand, as any parent who has watched their child run the wrong way during a game knows.

And starting too young can be frustrating for kids and may discourage future participation in sports. So if you decide to sign your preschooler up for soccer or another team sport, be sure to choose a peewee league that focuses on the fundamentals.

No matter what the sport or activity, remember that fitness should be fun. If your child isn't having fun, ask why and try to address the issue or find another activity.

Family Fitness Tips

Walking, playing, running in the backyard, or using playground equipment at a local park can be fun for the entire family.

Other activities to try together, or for a group of preschoolers to enjoy, include:

  • playing games such as "Duck, Duck, Goose" or "Follow the Leader," then mixing it up with jumping, hopping, and walking backward
  • kicking a ball back and forth
  • hitting a ball off a T-ball stand
  • playing freeze dance or freeze tag
  • pretending to be statues to practice balancing

Kids can be active even when they're stuck indoors. Designate a safe play area and try some active inside games:

  • Treasure hunt: Hide "treasures" throughout the house and provide clues to their locations.
  • Obstacle course: Set up an obstacle course with chairs, boxes, and toys for the kids to go over, under, through, and around.
  • Soft-ball games: Use soft foam balls to play indoor basketball, bowling, soccer, or catch. You can even use balloons to play volleyball or catch.

When to Call the Doctor

If your child refuses to play or join other kids in sports or complains of pain after being active, talk with your doctor.

Kids who enjoy sports and exercise tend to stay active throughout their lives. And staying fit can improve self-esteem, prevent obesity, and decrease the risk of serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease later in life.

Back to Articles


Related Articles

Nutrition & Fitness Center

You know the importance of exercising and eating nutritious foods, but do you know how to raise a healthy and active child? Get practical advice and tips.

Read More

Kids and Exercise

Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges.

Read More

Fitness and Your 6- to 12-Year-Old

School-age kids need physical activity to build strength, coordination, confidence, and to lay the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle.

Read More

Fitness and Your 13- to 18-Year-Old

Kids who enjoy exercise tend to stay active throughout their lives. Learn how to encourage fitness in your teen.

Read More

Medical Care and Your 4- to 5-Year-Old

Regular well-child exams are an important part of keeping kids healthy and up to date on immunizations against serious diseases. Find out what to expect at the doctor's office.

Read More

Playground Safety

Following these safety guidelines can make neighborhood playgrounds entertaining and safe for your kids.

Read More

What's Funny to a Preschooler?

Your preschooler is finding new things funny while developing a better understanding of the world - and is eager to show off new ways to be playful and laugh with you.

Read More

Fitness for Kids Who Don't Like Sports

Some kids aren't natural athletes and they may say they just don't like sports. What then?

Read More

Growth and Your 4- to 5-Year-Old

Kids who are 4 to 5 years old continue to learn in a very physical way, but are more focused than when they were younger.

Read More

Communication and Your 4- to 5-Year-Old

Communicating with our kids is one of the most pleasurable and rewarding parts of parenting. Learn how to connect with your 4- to 5-year-old.

Read More

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2019 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

Search our entire site.