Movement guidelines for children

Physical activity in the form of movement is one of the most beneficial things a child can do. It’s not only essential for a child’s physical development but also for their social skills, emotional resilience and cognitive ability at school.

All children can benefit from being active, whether it's through organised sports, active travel, or incidental movement. These activities can help create happy, active kids with habits that will benefit them well into their older adulthood.

Physical activity recommendations

The Australian Department of Health has worked with a number of experts to understand what the best physical activity recommendations are for children for children to establish healthy habits for growth and development. These recommendations are called the Australian 24-hour movement guidelines. These guidelines provide age-based recommendations for physical activity, screen time and sleep in a 24-hour period. See the parent brochures linked below or click on your child's age for the recommendations:

Infants (under 12 months)

Being physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, including supervised interactive floor‑based play, including crawling; more is better.

For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes of tummy time, which includes reaching and grasping, pushing and pulling, spread throughout the day while awake.

Toddlers (1-2 years)

At least 180 minutes spent in a variety of physical activities, including energetic play, spread throughout the day; more is better.

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

At least 180 minutes spent in a variety of physical activities, of which at least 60 minutes is energetic play, spread throughout the day; more is better.

Children and young people (5-17 years)

Children and young people should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, involving mainly aerobic activities.

They should incorporate strengthening activities on at least three days in the week, for example, climbing, hopping, jumping and running.

See simple steps to increase your child’s daily movement for more tips on how to achieve these physical activity recommendations. For information on physical activity guidelines for people aged 18-64, see the Department of Health website.

Activity levels among Australian children

Participation in all forms of movement is central to a child’s health as they grow and develop. Unfortunately, evidence shows that Australian children are not getting enough physical activity, despite having available and accessible facilities and open spaces. This may be due to a number of contributing factors. However, we know that there is room for improvement.

Children meeting the physical activity recommendations

  • Only 23% of children 5 to 14 years are meeting the 60 minutes of activity per day 
  • 72% of children aged 2 to 4 years are achieving the 180 minutes of activity per day.

In 2022, the Australian Society of Physical Activity released the Active Healthy Kids Australian report card with the following outcome:

Indicator2022 Report Card Rating % of Australian children achieving the benchmark
Overall physical activity level D-20-26%
Organised sport participation B-60-66%
Active transport D+34-39%
Family and peer support C+54-59%
School physical education C+54-59%
Community and the built environment A-80-86%
Physical fitness D+34-39%

Simple steps to increase daily movement

As parents, finding time in the day to get everything done can often be tricky.

Think of physical activity and movement for your child not as an extra task to add to your routine, but as something to integrate into your family's current activities. The goal is to make it as enjoyable as possible for you and your children so that you are more likely to repeat it.

Check out these ideas to get you, your children, and the whole family moving toward long-term healthy habits. 

Introduce movement early

Young children love to be active! The earlier you encourage active play, the more likely they will create strong healthy habits that they can carry into adulthood.

Lead by example

Speak positively about physical activity and be a role model for healthy behaviours. Research has shown that if parents are physically active, there is a higher chance that their child will also be physically active. 

Children don’t always do as you say, but they often follow what you do.

Choose active toys

When selecting equipment or toys for your child, select items that encourage movement. This could include equipment such as balls, skipping ropes, hula hoops, or frisbees.

Have equipment ready and accesible

Make equipment easily accessible to children to encourage movement. When equipment is readily available, children are more likely to use the equipment and be active.

For indoor activities:

  • have equipment visible, such as soft balls and buckets inside for throwing games
  • have a speaker ready in the lounge room for a dance party
  • remove chairs around craft or activity tables to encourage movement and reduce sedentary time.

For outdoor activities:

  • have a box of equipment near the front door such as cricket bats, soccer balls
  • dress your child in running shoes (or have them visible for older children) to encourage activity.

Register for organised sports

Enrol your child in an organised sport or an activity that they enjoy, such as soccer, basketball, or dance. This can help them stay active, develop new and make new friends. 

If one child is already enrolled in organised sport and you’re unsure how to pass the time with your other child, plan family activities that involve movement.

See Organised sport for more information.

Make family time active

Planning active family time is a great way to spend quality time with your child whilst also increasing physical activity. You can consider activities such as:

  • going on a walk to the playground
  • playing a game of soccer or frisbee in the park or backyard
  • going for a bike ride
  • dancing to your favourite music.

When going out and about you can consider:

  • taking public transport to encourage extra steps to and from bus stops or stations
  • parking further away from your destination and walking to add some extra steps in
  • bringing active toys or equipment with you.

Give children choices

Offer children some choice in their physical activity. This allows them to feel like they have a sense of control, which can increase their motivation and engagement. When children choose how they get active, they are more likely to enjoy and want to continue participate.

Follow your child’s lead. If your child wants to play hide and seek out the back and then it turns into knights chasing dragons, let their imagination run wild. Sometimes, children need a bit of wiggle room for some creative freedom.

Make it fun

Movement can come in any form. Children will likely seek out games and movement if they are entertaining and engaging.

Get creative with movement opportunities and tailor games or activities to children’s interests to increase engagement. 

Never use physical activity as a punishment

Never use physical activity as a punishment. Movement is an opportunity for children to grow. By making it into a consequence of unwanted behaviour, there is a risk of developing an unhealthy relationship with physical activity in children

Incidental movement 

Incidental movement is one of the best ways to increase children’s activity levels without having to add too much to their daily routine. Incidental movement is any physical movement that is not part of a structured exercise routine or sport, but instead is a part of a person's daily activities. For example:

  • gardening
  • household chores
  • taking the stairs instead of an elevator
  • dancing to background music
  • walking to school.

Did you know?

Incidental activity contributes more to children's overall physical activity per day than organised sport. Aim to add up the minutes in order to tick off 60 minutes a day.

Brain breaks for children

Brain breaks are short, simple activities that provide a physical and mental break from what your child is doing. Similar to adults, children’s brains can only focus on one set task for a certain period of time before starting to fade or lose attention. Taking a 3-5 minute break to get blood pumping back around the body can help settle children back down into work. Brain breaks are proven to enhance

  • focus
  • mood
  • cognitive function
  • behaviour.

Brain breaks are a great option for teachers and early childcare educators too! You could try:

  • stretching
  • dance break
  • jumping jacks
  • simon says
  • walking to a different space and back.

Active travel

As the name suggests, children’s active travel involves modes of transport which require physical activity. This may include walking, cycling, riding a scooter or a skateboard and it can be to any destination. For children, school is the most common destination.

Active travel has many great health benefits as it encourages children to be active and take less sedentary transport. Much like other forms of physical activity, the additional benefits of active transport include improved concentration, self-esteem and independence.  

Did you know?

Children who cycle or walk to school experience improved concentration levels lasting up to 4 hours after the activity.

Tips to increase active transport

Plan safe routes with your children

It's important to make sure that you and your children are aware of the safest and most direct routes to school. This knowledge can help your child feel more confident when using active transport. 

If routes to and from school are not safe, it is a good idea to speak with your child's school about your concerns and advocate for safer routes.They may be able to help by contacting their local Road Safety Education Officers to make the routes safer for your school community.

Set achievable targets

Set a goal that will be reasonable for you and your child. For example, pick one day of the week that suits the family to increase active transport on the way to work and school. 

A great initiative that many schools encourage is W.O.W (Walk on Wednesdays). If you can only spare 5 minutes and an extra block to school each week with your child, this is better than not. Every bit of movement counts!

Take public transport more frequently than driving

When children aren’t being dropped off directly at the school gate, they naturally increase their active transport. Children get in extra steps at the start and end of the trip as they travel to and from bus stops or stations.

Park and walk

Not every child will be able to walk directly from home to school and back. Find what is manageable for you as a family. 

To increase your movement throughout the day, you may like to consider:

  • leaving home earlier
  • parking further away
  • walking an extra 5-10 minutes to your child's school.

When you go to pick up your child, try to park further away and use the extra time walking back to the car to ask your child about their day. This can be a great opportunity to bond with your child while also getting more movement throughout the day.

If this oprtion isn't achiveable throughout the week, try 'parking and walking' on the weekends. You could try this when visiting:

  • shopping centres
  • organised sport
  • family or friends houses.

Involve other parents or children in your area

Community involvement in active travel to and from school can help increase overall physical activity in the area. 

Walking school buses are an excellent way to promote physical activity within a community. A walking school bus is a group of children who walk to and from school along a set safe route, accompanied by adult "drivers" who supervise the children. It is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity before and after school for children as well as adult volunteers. Consider asking your child's school if they have or are interested in implementing a similar program.

Teach your child to ride a bike

When children know how to ride a bike safely and confidently, they are more likely to enjoy the experience. Look out for some bicycle skills training in your area. Often, schools will incorporate some bike safety skills into active travel days.

Seek out end-of-trip facilities

Many schools encourage students to be active on the way to school. See if your child's school offers end-of-trip facilities such as bike racks. This will help children have a place to park their active transport while they are at school.

If your child's school doesn't have end-of-trip facilities, get involved to see if you are able to advocate for such facilities to increase active transport.

Participate in active transport events at school

Your child's school may participate in active transport events such as:

You may want to check with your child's school to see if they host any of these events, or similar events to these. It is a great opportunity to get active as a community.

Active travel participation

In the last 40 years, the number of children who are walked or rode to school has significantly declined from 8 out of 10 to today's numbers of 2 out of 10. 

Road safety and active travel 

Safety is the number one priority when children are using active transport to get to and from school. It is usually the number one concern for parents, but if you are aware of the road safety features ahead of time and practice behaviours with your child, cycling or walking to school can be a very safe activity. 

If your child is under 10 years old:

  • always supervise them closely and hold their hand when walking across roads or driveways
  • where possible, always try to find a pedestrian crossing, a set of traffic lights or a school crossing supervisor
  • allow your child to cycle in a safe place away from roads and driveways. 

If your child is over 10 years old:

  • where they are confident on routes and road signals, children can ride by themselves
  • make sure they always wear a bike helmet that complies with Australian and New Zealand safety standards. 

See safety around cars for more information. 

The importance of physical activity

Physical activity plays a crucial role in the growth and development of children; now and well into their adult lives. Studies show that physical activity levels during childhood years significantly increase the health outcomes of the same population group in their adult lives.

Humans were designed to move, and the benefits are almost endless, from physical developemnt to mental, social and emotional wellbeing. 

When we consider physical activity for children, we often focus our attention on the positive effects it has on their physical health. However, physical activity and movement are instrumental in a child's overall development. Physical activity can help improve:

Below are some of the benefits your child will see with regular physical activity. See simple steps to increase kids' movement for more ways to encourage movement as a parent.

Physical benefits

Physical activity benefits children’s physical bodies in a variety of ways. Benefits include:

  • healthy bones, muscles and joints
  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • improved heart and lung function 
  • improved balance, flexibility and posture
  • improved coordination and fundamental movement skills
  • improves a child’s immune system 
  • lowers the risk of long-term diseases such as diabetes or heart disease
  • improved stamina
  • decreased chance of injury.

Social and emotional benefits

Physical activity benefits children’s emotional health. Physical activity can:

  • increase self-esteem and confidence
  • reduce anti-social behaviour
  • encourage social interaction, such as through team sports
  • enhance the ability to cooperate in a team or group setting
  • build resilience in difficult situations
  • teach children to regulate emotions and take turns or share
  • lower anxiety levels.

These social and emotional benefits are protective factors against mental ill health. Stress, anxiety and depression are the most common mental health concerns among children and young adults. 

Exercise lasting 20-45 minutes can be most effective in improving children’s positive emotions. Studies show that being physically active increases the brain’s release of the feel-good hormones called endorphins. The more children engage in physical activity, the more likely they are to experience positive emotions. Engaging in regular exercise can decrease the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety.

 See Mental Health in Australia for more information.

Cognitive benefits

Parents are often concerned about physical activity taking time away from academic performance. Studies show there is a positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance. 

Children’s brains benefit from regular movement. Physical activity results in faster and increased brain activity. By being physically active, your child can benefit from:

  • improved thinking 
  • being able to concentrate for longer periods
  • better problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • enhanced memory.

There is a significant positive link between children’s movement and their ability to have sustained attention and cognitive function. 

One study showed that during a three-year period, students who were engaged in regular physical activity improved their academic performance by 6%. This benefit also crosses over into other non-direct outcomes for children, including better classroom attitudes and behaviours which can help improve results.

Attention levels are improved in children directly after periods of exercise. This could be five-minute brain breaks, recess or organised sport on the weekend. 


Higher levels of physical activity are associated with better sleep quality in children. 

By being active every day, it is likely that children will have improved quality of sleep, such as getting to sleep sooner and sleeping for longer.

See Regular sleep patterns for more information.

Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS)

Fundamental movement skills (FMS) are the basic movement patterns that are the foundation for more complex physical and recreational activities as children grow and develop. These are collectively known as your child’s physical literacy. 

There are 13 fundamental movement skills that make up physical literacy and can be broken down into the following two categories: 

  • body management and locomotion skills: jumping, running, hopping, galloping, leaping, side-sliding and skipping 
  • object control skills: catching, underarm throw, overarm throw, kicking, dribbling and striking. 

As a parent, understanding your child's confidence and proficiency in fundamental movement skills can help them continue learning through movement.

When observing your child, knowing how to complete the fundamental movement skills is useful. Click on the link below to explore educational videos on how to complete the 13 fundamental movement skills.

Last updated Monday 6th May 2024