Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 3: Health Promotion and Protection

3.1 Health Promotion in Child Care

3.1.3 Physical Activity and Limiting Screen Time Active Opportunities for Physical Activity

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 05/29/2018.

The facility should promote all children’s active play every day. Children should have ample opportunity to do moderate to vigorous activities, such as running, climbing, dancing, skipping, and jumping, to the extent of their abilities.

All children, birth to 6 years of age, should participate daily in:

     a. Two to 3 occasions of active play outdoors, weather permitting (see Standard Playing Outdoors for appropriate weather conditions)

     b. Two or more structured or caregiver/teacher/adult-led activities or games that promote movement over the course of the day—indoor or outdoor

     c. Continuous opportunities to develop and practice age-appropriate gross motor and movement skills

The total time allotted for outdoor play and moderate to vigorous indoor or outdoor physical activity can be adjusted for the age group and weather conditions.

Outdoor play

     a. Infants (birth–12 months of age) should be taken outside 2 to 3 times per day, as tolerated. There is no recommended duration of infants’ outdoor play.

     b. Toddlers (12 – 35 months) and preschoolers (3–6 years) should be allowed 60 to 90 total minutes of outdoor play (1).

These outdoor times can be curtailed somewhat during adverse weather conditions in which children may still play safely outdoors for shorter periods, but the time of indoor activity should increase so the total amount of exercise remains the same.

Total time allotted for moderate to vigorous activities:

     a. Toddlers should be allowed 60 to 90 minutes per 8-hour day for moderate to vigorous physical activity, including running.

     b. Preschoolers should be allowed 90 to 120 minutes per 8-hour day for moderate to vigorous physical activity, including running (1,2).

Infants should have supervised tummy time every day when they are awake. Beginning on the first day at the early care and education program, caregivers/teachers should interact with an awake infant on his/her tummy for short periods (3–5 minutes), increasing the amount of time as the infant shows he/she enjoys the activity (3).

There are many ways to promote tummy time with infants:

     a. Place yourself or a toy just out of the infant’s reach during playtime to get him/her to reach for you or the toy.

     b. Place toys in a circle around the infant. Reaching to different points in the circle will allow him/her to develop the appropriate muscles to roll over, scoot on his/her belly, and crawl.

     c. Lie on your back and place the infant on your chest. The infant will lift his/her head and use his/her arms to try to see your face (3,4).

Structured activities have been shown to produce higher levels of physical activity in young children, therefore it is recommended that caregivers/teachers incorporate 2 or more short, structured activities or games daily that promote physical activity (5).

Opportunities to actively enjoy physical activity should be incorporated into part-time programs by prorating these recommendations accordingly (eg, 20 minutes of outdoor play for every 3 hours in the facility).

Active play should never be withheld from children who misbehave (eg, child is kept indoors to help another caregiver/teacher while the rest of the children go outside) (6). However, children with out-of-control behavior may need 5 minutes or fewer to calm themselves or settle down before resuming cooperative play or activities.

Infants should not be seated for more than 15 minutes at a time, except during meals or naps (5). Infant equipment, such as swings, stationary activity centers, infant seats (eg, bouncers), and molded seats, should only be used for short periods, if used at all. A least-restrictive environment should be encouraged at all times (7).

Children should have adequate space for indoor and outdoor play.


Time spent outdoors has been found to be a strong, consistent predictor of children’s physical activity (8). Children can accumulate opportunities for activity over the course of several shorter segments of at least 10 minutes each (9).  Free play, active play, and outdoor play are essential components of young children’s development (10). Children learn through play, developing gross motor, socioemotional, and cognitive skills. During outdoor play, children learn about their environment, science, and nature (10).

Infants’ and young children’s participation in physical activity is critical to their overall health, development of motor skills, social skills, and maintenance of healthy weight (11). Daily physical activity promotes young children’s gross motor development and provides numerous health benefits, including improved fitness and cardiovascular health, healthy bone development, improved sleep, and improved mood and sense of well-being (12).

Toddlers and preschoolers generally accumulate moderate to vigorous physical activity over the course of the day in very short bursts (15–30 seconds) (5). Children may be able to learn better during or immediately after these types of short bursts of physical activity, due to improved attention and focus (13).
Tummy time prepares infants to be able to slide on their bellies and crawl. As infants grow older and stronger they will need more time on their tummies to build their own strength (3).

Childhood obesity prevalence, for children 2 to 5 years old, has steadily decreased from 13.9% in 2004 to 9.4% in 2014 (14). Incorporating government food programs, physical activities, and wellness education into child care centers has been associated with these decreases (15).

Establishing communication between caregivers/teachers and parents/guardians helps facilitate integration of classroom physical activities into the home, making it more likely that children will stay active outside of child care hours (16). Very young children and those not yet able to walk, are entirely dependent on their caregivers/teachers for opportunities to be active (17).

Especially for children in full-time care and for children who don’t have access to safe playgrounds, the early care and education facility may provide the child’s only daily opportunity for active play. Physical activity habits learned early in life may track into adolescence and adulthood, supporting the importance for children to learn lifelong healthy physical activity habits while in the early care and education program (18).


Additional Resources

Choosy Kids (

EatPlayGrow Early Childhood Health Curriculum, Children’s Museum of Manhattan (

Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center, US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families (

Healthy Kids, Healthy Future; The Nemours Foundation (

Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care, Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, University of North Carolina (

Online Physical Education Network (

Spark (

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Health, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Safety Awareness Playing Outdoors Caregivers’/Teachers’ Encouragement of Physical Activity Restrictive Infant Equipment Requirements Policies and Practices that Promote Physical Activity
Appendix S: Physical Activity: How Much Is Needed?
  1. Henderson KE, Grode GM, O’Connell ML, Schwartz MB. Environmental factors associated with physical activity in childcare centers. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2015;12:43

  2. Vanderloo LM, Martyniuk OJ, Tucker P. Physical and sedentary activity levels among preschoolers in home-based childcare: a systematic review. J Phys Act Health. 2015;12(6):879–889

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Back to sleep, tummy to play. Web site. Updated January 20, 2017. Accessed January 11, 2018

  4. Zachry AH. Tummy time activities. American Academy of Pediatrics Web site. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed January 11, 2018

  5. US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human Services. Provide opportunities for active play every day. Nutrition and wellness tips for young children: provider handbook for the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Published June 2013. Accessed January 11, 2018

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and SHAPE America-Society of Health and Physical Educators. Physical activity during school: Providing recess to all students. 2017. Accessed January 11, 2018

  7. Moir C, Meredith-Jones K, Taylor BJ, et al. Early intervention to encourage physical activity in infants and toddlers: a randomized controlled trial. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48(12):2446–2453

  8. Vanderloo LM, Martyniuk OJ, Tucker P. Physical and sedentary activity levels among preschoolers in home-based childcare: a systematic review. J Phys Act Health. 2015;12(6):879–889

  9. Hnatiuk JA, Salmon J, Hinkley T, Okely AD, Trost S. A review of preschool children’s physical activity and sedentary time using objective measures. Am J Prev Med. 2014;47(4):487–497

  10. Bento G, Dias G. The importance of outdoor play for young children’s healthy development. Porto Biomed J. 2017;2(5):157–160

  11. Jayasuriya A, Williams M, Edwards T, Tandon P. Parents’ perceptions of preschool activities: exploring outdoor play. Early Educ Dev. 2016;27(7):1004–1017

  12. Timmons BW, Leblanc AG, Carson V, et al. Systematic review of physical activity and health in the early years (aged 0-4 years). Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012;37(4):773–792

  13. Donnelly JE, Hillman CH, Castelli D, et al. Physical activity, fitness, cognitive function, and academic achievement in children: a systematic review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48(6):1197–1222

  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight & obesity. Childhood obesity facts. Prevalence of childhood obesity in the United States, 2011-2014. Updated April 10, 2017. Accessed January 11, 2018

  15. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Lawman HG, et al. Trends in obesity prevalence among children and adolescents in the United States, 1988-1994 through 2013-2014. JAMA. 2016;315(21):2292–2299

  16. Taverno Ross S, Dowda M, Saunders R, Pate R. Double dose: the cumulative effect of TV viewing at home and in preschool on children’s activity patterns and weight status. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 2013;25(2):262–272

  17. Society of Health and Physical Educators. Active Start: A Statement of Physical Activity Guidelines for Children From Birth to Age 5. 2nd ed. Reston, VA: SHAPE America; 2009. Accessed January 11, 2018

  18. Simmonds M, Llewellyn A, Owen CG, Woolacott N. Predicting adult obesity from childhood obesity: a systematic review and meta‚Äźanalysis. Obes Rev. 2016;17(2)95–107


Content in the STANDARD was modified on 05/29/2018.