Encouraging your little one to stay active during self-isolation

Lucy Upton, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist


As social distancing policies are put in place, and schools and nurseries shut their doors indefinitely, keeping your toddlers entertained and active for hours on end during COVID-19 may seem daunting and at times virtually impossible! Parents and carers have been thrown into a cozy and chaotic ‘new normal’ and may wonder how they can meet the recommended three hours a day of physical activity for under-fives who are walking. But do not panic, the Infant & Toddler Forum are here to help make sure you have plenty of ideas to keep your toddler happy and entertained whilst encouraging physical activity.


What counts as physical activity?

Many may be wondering what exactly counts towards those three hours of physical activity. Physical activity can include light intensity activity such as walking, playing and board games as well as more energetic physical activity like running, climbing and jumping.


Why is physical activity and play so important?

Toddlers learn eagerly and most want to try new activities. Encouraging your toddler to keep physically active will help them to:

  • Develop movement and coordination skills
  • Keep up with friends in the playground and in sporting activities as they get older
  • Stay a healthy weight
  • Keep a healthy heart
  • Regulate their arousal levels
  • Aid sleep
  • Support concentration on other activities at home

If toddlers learn to enjoy games, activity and sport, then continue playing when they start school, it’s likely their interaction, socialisation and school work will benefit. Remember to be patient; some toddlers take longer than others to learn new skills. Some are better co-ordinated than others. Keep gently encouraging, role model, make it fun and give lots of praise.


Keeping your toddler active indoors

Ideas for some fun games which can be enjoyed indoors:

  • ‘Keep it up’ with a balloon
  • Singing with actions
  • Dancing or a dance-a-thon
  • Playing catch with a bean bag or balloon
  • Planning an in/outdoor treasure hunt
  • Playing musical statues
  • Playing hide and seek
  • Making a den

Pretend play develops from about 15 months and is mainly imitative. By pretending that a toy or other object is a real person in a real world, children explore and learn about the world around them. They may talk to themselves about what they are doing, and take on different roles as their play becomes more elaborate. Unstructured imaginative play is valuable and toddlers should not be hurried on to more complex or interactive forms of play.


Make time for messy play

Through messy play children become more accustomed to different touch sensations. If toddlers are reluctant to touch messy play mixtures, they can be encouraged to play with dry textures initially. Some may find it easier to hold a toy and play with it in loose dry textures, such as sand, before putting their hands into the texture. Messy play can be particularly helpful for children who are fussy about the foods they eat and who are sensitive to touch and smell. Try encouraging your toddler to play with sticky textures, such as plasticine or Play-DohTM, which they can use to roll, squash, and shape into models. You can also try wet textures for painting – cut root vegetables, such as potatoes, can be used as stamps for making prints.


Going outside is still permitted… as long as you practice social distancing

If you don’t have a garden, you can still go outside for a stroll to get some fresh air and exercise with your little one. In his address to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that one form of exercise a day, such as a run, walk or cycle is still allowed with members of your household. However it is important to remember that “you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2m (6.5ft) apart from anyone outside of your household.”


‘Screen’ (but don’t stop!) screen time

If you’re worried that your toddler being at home may lead to increased time in front of the screen, it’s important to remember that not all screen time is thought to be detrimental and at present there is no evidence that screen time activity displaces active play in infants and toddlers. The nature of the screen time is equally as important as the length of screen time. Make sure that what your child is watching, playing and reading is high quality and safe and avoid screen use at bedtimes and mealtimes.


We hope you and your toddler enjoy these fun activities and stay happy and healthy during this unpredictable time. If you would like more indoor and outdoor activity ideas, click here.

Posted in BlogTagged , ,

Further Reading

  • By Melanie Pilcher and Dr. Gillian Harris Establishing bedtime routines for toddlers and young children
  • By Dr. Gillian Harris, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Birmingham and ITF member Most parents will struggle at some point to get their toddlers to eat certain foods. Is toddler food refusal a sign of an eating disorder. or is it merely a phase? In the run up to Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Gill Harris provides practical advice to help parents tackle fussy eating in toddlers.  
  • By Lucy Upton, on behalf of the Infant and Toddler Forum On behalf of the members of the Infant and Toddler Forum, I am proud to announce the launch of a new infant feeding educational programme, which includes practical resources for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) working with parents and infants.