One very important way of encouraging active play is to disallow or limit screen time and deliberately switch to active play.

What is screen-time?

Screen time is time spent in front of any type of screen for entertainment or recreation purposes. This includes watching television, movies or DVDs; playing computer games, playstations and hand held electronic games; using the internet.

While active play is good for the health of babies and children, screen time is bad for the health of babies and children. Switching to active play can help to promote healthy physical activity and prevent unhealthy sedentary activity.

Research has shown that screen time reduces the amount of time for active play and limits physical and social development. There is also a strong link between screen time and increased levels of obesity; poor concentration and reduced intellectual development.

Recommended Screen-time Limits

  • 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).
  • For children 2-5 years of age, sitting and watching television and the use of other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games) should be limited to less than one hour per day.

Switch to active play everyday

Ways to Limit Screen-time

Here are some ways you can limit your child’s screen-time:

  • Establish a home policy about the maximum amount of screen time per child and enforce it.
  • Use a timer or an alarm clock to monitor screen time restrictions per child.
  • Designate certain screen-free days.
  • Only have screens in common areas and not in bedrooms or individual study or quiet areas.
  • Encourage children to choose what they want to watch or do with their screen time rather than allowing idle screen time.
  • Implement a “no screen” policy during meal times.
  • Make an effort to provide babies and children with both active and restful non-screen activities eg, games, stories, cooking, music, dancing, dress ups etc.
  • Set a good example as parents and carers by being physically active. Don’t be seen to spend lots of time in front of a screen. Join your children  in non-screen based  activities.

Active Play Equipment

You don’t need to buy expensive equipment. Be creative, consider what you have available and produce your own equipment. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Alternative equipment options for physical activity

  • Rolling wedge: prop one side of a couch cushion up on pillows
  • Beanbags: sew scrap material into a square or rectangle, stuff with dried beans, dried corn or sand
  • Skittles: empty plastic bottles and cartons
  • Soccer goals: lay out markers to kick between or use a large box laid on its side
  • Markers: empty ice-cream containers (also good for buckets)
  • Parachute: brightly coloured tablecloth or an old bed sheet or blanket
  • Tennis Pole: suspend a tennis ball in an old stocking from a tree branch,verandah cross beam or clothesline (away from any windows)
  • Balls: scrunch paper into stockings or socks and tie in round shape or use balloons
  • Balance beam: masking tape, a line drawn with chalk or a skipping rope laid out on the ground
  • Tunnel: cardboard boxes taped together
  • Target: an old sheet with a target drawn on it or a cardboard box
  • Bats: rolled up newspaper bound with masking tape; inside tubes of cling wrap, pool noodles cut to an appropriate size

Indoor active play ideas

Both indoor and outdoor experiences are important for children’s physical development. While most of us can easily think of plenty of active outdoor games, we often struggle to think of games suited to indoors.

Try the following:

  • Throwing soft balls or sock balls into a bucket and varying the distance
  • Follow-the-leader
  • Making an obstacle course
  • Play heads and shoulders knees and toes
  • Act out a children’s story book
  • Ten pin bowling in the hallway using recyclable bottles or cartons
  • Hide and seek
  • Jumping or hopping over a piece of rope or a long piece of string. Time how many jumps/hops you can do is a minute, then try and better it!
  • Dress-ups
  • Build a cubby house, tent or fortress using sheets, chairs, tables or cardboard boxes.

Tips for parents and carers

The play environment
A positive, safe environment is very important for indoor or outdoor play. Being outdoors has the added benefit of providing children with space to carry out ‘gross motor’ activities such as jumping, running, climbing and leaping at different speeds. Outdoor play also allows children to get to know their environment and connect with nature.

Remember, both parents and children should be sun smart when outdoors.

Role of parents and carers
Parents are important role models and should be active with their children every day. Try to also plan some opportunities for the whole family to be active on a weekly basis. Carers and other family members, such as grandparents, can also share in the fun and responsibility of planning activities.

It’s good to keep play items in your car and at home which assist in creating opportunities for play, such as blow-up beach balls, soccer balls, bats, and buckets and spades.

This article uses information from the ACT Government Good Habits for Life –Kids at Play website.

The site is a treasure trove of information and ideas about physical activity for children of all ages with specific suggestions for babies, toddlers & preschoolers.