Car seats, strollers, and high chairs are great for keeping your little one safe and secure while you are traveling or getting things done at home.

But, if kids spend too much time being sedentary, it can interfere with their motor development. Also, they can get too comfortable being sedentary and less likely to play and be active. This inactivity adds to the rising rate of childhood obesity.

You do not need to engage your child in any serious physical activity, just encourage him to do more of what kids are naturally inclined to do—explore and play. To help your child learn to use muscles and develop coordination, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education has exercise guidelines for young children. Just keep in mind that if an activity is too difficult, kids become frustrated and lose motivation to try again.

Infants (Birth to 12 months)

Engage your infant in some activity every day. This includes setting up safe areas for the infant to play in, playing games with him, and carrying him to different environments to explore. Do not keep infants in baby seats or other restrictive settings for long periods of time.

To encourage your infant to be active, try the following:

  • Lay your infant on a blanket on the floor with a few toys.
  • Provide brightly colored, easy-to-grasp toys that can be squeezed or have different textures to encourage reaching and grasping.
  • Place the infant on his tummy facing you, encourage him to lift his head and kick his legs.
  • When the baby is learning to roll over, hold a favorite toy just out of reach to motivate him to keep trying.
  • Play peek-a-boo or patty-cake; help move your child's hands so he learns the motions.
  • Carry the child to a new environment, set him down, and let him explore. Be sure the area is baby-proofed.

Toddlers (12 to 36 months)

As walking skills progress, toddlers have a lot of energy. Encourage them to use it all! Toddlers should accumulate at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day. Unstructured activity should exceed 60 minutes. Do not keep your child in a baby seat or inactive for long periods of time.

Try the following:

  • Bounce, throw, and chase balls to develop hand-eye coordination . Use soft balls that will not break anything.
  • Dance to music and follow-along songs to promote body awareness and balance.
  • Play "Simon Says" and "Follow the Leader."
  • Provide safe, sturdy objects to ride, push, pull, balance on, and climb.
  • Make chores into games that kids can help with, for example:
    • During dinner preparation, have him carry something to the table that will not break or spill.
    • On laundry day, have him throw dirty clothes into the laundry basket

Preschoolers (3 to 5 years)

As kids gain more strength and balance, it is easier for them to get the recommended minimum of one hour of structured physical activity each day. Unstructered activity should take up 1 hour to several hours per day. Some suggestions:

  • To promote balance, help the child walk along a line on the ground. Be sure that it is a safe area with no cars around.
  • Lay out objects to create a maze or tell a child to run around a tree and back, providing vigorous exercise plus mastering turns and balance.
  • Around age 3, children learn to hop and are ready for the game "hopscotch," which will promote balance and strengthen leg muscles.
  • Around age 4, kids learn to skip; practice skipping with them across the yard, or work it into a game of "Follow the Leader."
  • Provide safe objects to ride, push, pull, balance on, and climb.

Emphasize fun, not competition. Preschoolers lack the social and cognitive development for organized team sports. Getting involved can leave them frustrated and make them lose interest in sports.

For Kids of Any Age

Physical activity should become part of the family's daily routine. This means parents, too! Kids are more likely to stick with it if they see their parents and older siblings being active. Look for chances to fit in exercise and make it a part of your family's lifestyle.

Plan day trips or vacations that include hiking, kayaking, swimming, bicycling, roller skating, skiing, or horseback riding. At home, set limits on TV time and encourage kids to get outside and play. Also, involve the whole family in housework and yard work. Try to make these activities fun.

If you make exercise a priority in your life, your children will likely do the same.