For infants, toddlers and preschoolers (birth to 5 years)

Being active is important for babies and young children to grow healthy, and sets good habits for life. Read about how much activity small children should do each day, limiting sitting time, avoiding screens, and making sure they get enough sleep.

Being active

All babies and young children benefit from a mix of physical activity, inactivity and sleep in each 24-hour period. Physical activity for young children mainly happens through unstructured, active play.

At that age, young children love moving around and exploring their world. The more active they are, the better, as it helps:

  • achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • build strong bones and muscles
  • improve balance, movement and coordination skills
  • promote mental, emotional and social wellbeing
  • promote better learning and thinking
  • reduce injuries.

It’s important that parents and carers support and encourage children to be active, to help them be healthier, happier, smarter and stronger. As young children grow and develop, they should work towards:

  • spending more time in active play
  • spending less time sitting
  • getting enough sleep each day.

Give your children the freedom to create their own play, and do things that encourage independence and appropriate risk taking while supervised. This could be walking along a low wall, building a cubby house with branches or climbing a low tree.

Parents and carers can also be great role models for their children, by being active themselves. Read our physical activity guidelines for adults.

For infants (birth to 12 months)

Even before they are mobile, babies should be physically active several times a day in various ways. This can be through:

  • supervised interactive floor-based play – the more the better
  • at least 30 minutes of tummy time over the course of the day while awake, including moving their arms and legs
  • reaching and grasping for objects.

Once they are mobile, it can be through:

  • crawling – you can create easy obstacle courses for them to navigate
  • pulling up to a standing position and moving while holding onto things
  • walking – in some cases.

For toddlers (1 to 2 years)

Toddlers love to run around, and that’s great. The more active play toddlers take part in, the better.

Toddlers should get at least 3 hours of various physical activities each day, including energetic play. This could be through: 

  • running – playing tips, ball games or races at the park
  • twirling and jumping – at the park or by creating fun obstacle courses at home
  • dancing
  • skipping.

This should take place through the day, not all at once. Physical activity for toddlers should be fun and encourage exploration and discovery.

For preschoolers (3 to 5 years)

The more active play preschoolers take part in, the better. They should be active for at least 3 hours each day. This should include 1 hour of energetic play, like: 

  • running – playing tips, ball games or races at the park
  • kicking, throwing and jumping – at the park or by creating fun obstacle courses at home
  • dancing
  • skipping.

This should take place through the day, not all at once. Physical activity for preschoolers should be fun and encourage exploration and discovery.

Limiting time sitting or restrained

To help your children grow healthy and develop good habits for life:

  • limit the time they spend sitting or lying down, except when sleeping (sedentary behaviour)
  • avoid sedentary screen-based activities
  • spend quiet time with them reading, storytelling, doing puzzles or doing other activities that support their development.

Sedentary screen time during early childhood can have long-term impacts on a child’s development. We recommend no screen time for children under 2 years, and no more than 1 hour per day for those aged 2 to 5 years.

Spending long periods sedentary and using screens unsupervised can lead children to:

  • develop language skills later
  • have shorter attention spans
  • be less ready for school, and find it harder to learn to read
  • make poorer decisions.

If you do allow screen time, it should be educational. This means watching with your child, talking about the content, and using it as a chance to help your child understand the world around them.

For infants (birth to 12 months)

For babies, we recommend:

  • not restraining them for more than 1 hour at a time (such as in a stroller, car seat or high chair)
  • not allowing any screen time
  • choosing educational activities while inactive – like reading, telling a story, singing, painting or doing craft.

For toddlers (1 to 2 years)

For toddlers, we recommend:

  • not restraining them for more than 1 hour at a time (such as in a stroller, car seat or high chair)
  • limiting the time they spend sitting or lying down
  • not allowing any sedentary screen time
  • choosing educational activities while inactive – like reading, telling a story, singing, doing a puzzle, using building blocks, painting or doing craft.

For preschoolers (3 to 5 years)

For preschoolers, we recommend:

  • not restraining them for more than 1 hour at a time (such as in a stroller, car seat or high chair)
  • limiting the time they spend sitting or lying down
  • not allowing any more than 1 hour of sedentary screen time per day – less is better
  • choosing educational activities while inactive – like reading, telling a story, singing, doing a puzzle, using building blocks, painting or doing craft.

Ensuring good sleep

Sleep is essential for a healthy child – a well-rested child is an active child, and an active child is a well-rested child.

Start developing good bedtime and sleeping habits early for your child. This includes:

  • having a calming bedtime routine
  • setting consistent sleep and wake-up times
  • avoiding screen time before sleep
  • keeping screens out of the bedroom.

For infants (birth to 12 months)

Babies need good quality sleep every day, including naps, of:

  • 14 to 17 hours until 3 months
  • 12 to 16 hours from 4 to 11 months.

For toddlers (1 to 2 years)

Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of good quality sleep every day, including naps, with consistent sleep and wake-up times.

For preschoolers (3 to 5 years)

Preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours of good quality sleep every day, with consistent sleep and wake-up times. Some children still need naps at this age.

Learn more

For more information about our activity recommendations for babies and young children, see the:

For older children, read our physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep recommendations for children aged 5 to 17 years.

We acknowledge the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology as the originator of the Canadian '24-hour movement guidelines for the early years (aged 0–4 years)', which were used in the development of these recommendations.

Last updated: 
6 May 2021

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