Exercising with your preschooler not only sets a good example, it is so much fun!

Gross Motor Activities for 3-to 5-Year Olds

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

Get physical! Getting physical during the preschool years can be loads of fun, now that their growing bodies are ready for gross motor activities. Always on the go, you can find the typical 3- to 5-year-old climbing, jumping, spinning, running and leaping at every opportunity. Just watching can make your head spin. A preschooler's passion for constant motion can make these precious years an ideal time to instill good fitness habits that you hope will continue for life.

Movement is the Name of the Game!

Kids this age are capable of all kinds of gross motor activities -- as long as the activities keep them mobile for as long as possible. Preschoolers enjoy moving backward and forward, standing and hopping on one foot, throwing a ball overhand or kicking a ball forward. Learning basic gross motor skill in the preschool years builds confidence, and ups the odd that they'll remain physically active into adulthood.

Walk With Your Preschooler

Children tend to follow your lead, whether it's your exercise habits or your eating habits. Set a good example by joining your preschooler in physical activities. A walk in the park or on the exercise track may seem dull to a 4- to 5-year-old. Try walking through the woods, where the two of you can enjoy the beauty of nature. Whether you're admiring fall leaves' colors change from green to red and gold, tossing stones into a creek, watching squirrels, rabbits and ducks, or taking a walk in the woods -- all these can be a learning experience, as well as an appealing adventure for your preschooler. Walk to stores, playgrounds or a friend's house with her, whenever possible. She will see that you don't have to drive a car every time you go somewhere.

Bend the Rules -- and Don't Forget to Dance!

Kicking around a ball with your preschooler can be a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Keep things light and simple. Enforcing rules in what was intended to be a loose game of soccer can sour his interest in playing. Preschoolers love to dance, whether it's to traditional kiddie music, or popular tunes. Join in the fun to please your child and give both you a chance to blow of a little steam -- and burn a few calories.

Old Standards and Free Play

Traditional nursery rhymes like "London Bridge is Falling Down" and games like "Simon Says" are always popular. Preschoolers also get a kick out of playing "I'm a Little Teapot" and "Duck, Duck, Goose." Let your preschooler choose a free play activity, as long as it's under your supervision. Playing dress-up or investigating the nooks and crannies of the backyard can keep a preschooler occupied. You can join her in the backyard as she plays.


Preschool is an ideal time to enroll your daughter in swim, dance, movement or gymnastic classes -- now that she's more adept at making her body move in the direction she wants it. Free play should be the focus of group fitness programs, rather than strict routines that may directly or indirectly encourage competition. Classes should not exceed 20 minutes at this age, or you run the risk of your little one losing interest. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that preschoolers get at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity a day. Exercise can be broken down to two, 30-minute sessions or four, 15-sessions, spread throughout the day.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

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