Physical activity for babies

From the time they are born, babies learn through interacting with the world. For healthy development in infants (birth to 1 year), physical activity – particularly supervised, floor-based play in safe environments – should be encouraged from birth.

Daily chances for babies to move freely help to:
  • keep their bodies and minds active
  • develop their senses and curiosity
  • develop good posture, strength and balance
  • make them feel loved, happy and safe
  • develop their language and communication skills
  • teach them about their body and the world around them
  • encourage interaction with others.
For babies who haven’t started walking yet, being physically active means having daily opportunities to move around on their stomach or back in a variety of free spaces, without being restricted by tight wraps or clothing. It also includes practising movements, such as reaching, grasping, pulling, pushing and playing with people, objects and toys.

Babies love to be around people, and they learn a lot from interacting with them. It is important to make time to spend with babies, including time playing with them.

What are some ways for young babies to be active?

Early childhood settings are likely to have planned programs that include a range of different movement opportunities throughout the day. Babies also need to be provided with a variety of activities and plenty of opportunities for play when they are at home. Play activities that stimulate their senses will also help to develop other skills.

Some ideas for playing with your baby include:

Tummy time

Tummy time is important for strengthening your baby's head, neck and trunk muscles, and encouraging free leg and arm movements. Place your baby on different floor surfaces, for example rugs or mates. Try placing toys or other safe objects just out of reach, for them to rech for and try to grasp.

Getting around

As your baby becomes more mobile they will enjoy practising new movements such as kicking, crawling, pulling themselves up onto sturdy chairs or benches and crawling through tunnels. Baby walkers and baby exercise jumpers are not advised, due to the risk of injury, and becasue they can delay sitting, walking and crawling.
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Sound

Noises during play help with areas of brain development linked to hearing, and can also encourage movement. Give your baby a rattle, a wooden spoon and saucepan, or play music for them to listen and move to.

Touch

Give your baby toys and objecs with different textures and materials, for them to touch and squeeze. This will help develop their sense of touch. You can make your own toys - for example, a stocking filled with scrunched-up paper.

Sight

Moving objects that your baby can follow with their eyes help develop eye strength and encourage movement. Read your baby books made of fabric or cardboard, place them below a colourful mobile or play 'Peek-a-boo'.

What about outdoor play for young babies?

Playing outside can help babies to learn about different surroundings and feel comfortable with the world around them. Some experiences that outside play provide include feeling grass, hearing cars and birds, and looking at the sky.

When your baby is outside, show, talk and sing to them about what they may see or feel. If you do not have an outdoor area at home, take your baby to the park or another local outdoor area whenever you can.

Sedentary behaviour and screen-time

Even before babies can walk and move independently, they need plenty of time to practise movements such as reaching, kicking and feeling. Even when they start crawling and walking they continue to need time to practise new skills, move freely and creatively, and interact with others. Babies should notbe restrained or kept inactive (during awake time) for more than an hour at a time.

Why no screen-time from birth to two years?

Based on recent research, it is recommended that children younger than two years of age should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games).

Screen-time is not recommended for babies and children less than two years of age, because it may:
  • reduce the amount of time they have for active play, social contact with others and chances for language development
  • affect the development of a full range of eye movement
  • reduce the length of time they can stay focused.
Screen-based activities for children less than two years of age have not been shown to lead to any health, intellectual or language benefits.

You may want to check with your early childhood setting for their policy on screen-time for young children, and think about ways to minimise screen-time at home.