Want physical activities for 3 year olds to get your child moving? Whether indoors or out, discover simple activities perfect for kids!
How much can this kid read?! I thought to myself. My then-3-year-old was and still is a book worm. He’d spend hours either flipping through books or asking me to read to him (I had once timed how long we read in one day, and the total came up to four hours).
If he wasn’t reading, he was inspecting his toy fire truck, building train sets, or coloring and drawing.
All well and good, except I was starting to think that these activities weren’t physical enough. After all, his pediatrician had recommended that young children should only be sedentary for an hour at a time (other than for sleep).
As much as I wanted to encourage these passions, I also knew the importance of getting physical activity. We didn’t have a convenient backyard for him to run around, and he didn’t have his little brothers to play chase with just yet.
Any time I took him to the park, he preferred to drop acorns in the puddles or dig up dirt, not climb on the jungle gyms.
Physical activities for 3 year olds
If your 3 year old is anything like my son, you might be looking for physical activities she can do as well. Bonus points if the activities don’t need a lot of preparation, time, or bulky items to store. You might even be pregnant or on bed rest and in no condition to be active yourself.
Don’t worry—I gathered several ideas you can try that are simple, fun, and most importantly, gets your child moving! Take a look at these activities, which you can do both at home and outdoors, that you and your child can enjoy.
1. Play with a balloon
Preschoolers love playing with balloons because there’s so much to do with them. If the balloon still has plenty of helium, clip the string to the ground so your child can hit it like a punching bag. She can also hold the string and run with it like a kite throughout the house.
Once the helium wears off and the balloon starts drifting to the ground, remove the string so she can toss it in the air and catch it during its slow descent.
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2. Chase bubbles
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Bubbles never get old! Blow bubbles (or get a bubble machine like this one) and have your 3 year old catch and pop them in the air.
3. Play classic games
What better way to get your child moving than with classic games we’ve been playing since we were kids? Here are a few ideas to try:
- Hopscotch: Show him the timeless game of hopscotch. If outdoors, use sidewalk chalk to draw the hopscotch pattern on the ground. Use any small, hard object to mark your spots on the ground. If you’re indoors, use painter’s tape on the ground to mark your spots.
- Duck, duck, goose: This is a fun activity to do with other siblings. Even if it’s just the two of you, you can still run around the room before tagging the other person’s head.
- Leap frog: Have him “hop” or jump over you (you might try lying down flat on your belly so he doesn’t have to jump too high). Then repeat and hop over him.
- Red light, green light: Have him run when you say “green light” and stop when you say “red light.” Then you can switch and have him call red or green light.
- Egg and Spoon: Racers place the tip of a spoon in their mouths while they balance an egg on the other side. The challenge is to get to the finish line without dropping the egg.
- Crab walk: Another race variation is the crab walk. Kids walk on their hands and feet, belly side up, and try to get to the other side first.
- Freeze tag: If you have a few kids around, freeze tag makes for a fun group game. The person who is “It” chases everyone and “freezes” them on touch (at which point they stand still until they’re unfrozen by another person).
- Hide and seek: This classic game can get your kids to move their muscles, whether throughout the house or out in the yard. You can even play a version where you hide certain items like a stuffed animal and everyone else searches for it.
4. Ride a tricycle or scooter
Scooters and trikes are fantastic, toddler-friendly items that never bore kids. A simple “drive” around the block or at your local park offers your child plenty of active play. Don’t forget helmets, and even knee- and elbow pads.
You can also get a glider which is a two-wheeler bike but without pedals. Another option is to simply take a brisk walk around the neighborhood! Play a fun game of I Spy or a scavenger hunt to make it even more fun.
5. Enroll your child in physical classes
In summers past, I enrolled my kids in swim class not just for the life skills but to be active and make use of the good weather. Besides swimming, other ideas include soccer, dance, gymnastics, martial arts, and little league. The added perk? You get a break while you watch your child in class!
Classes also hold you accountable and are more likely to make sure she gets exercise regularly.
6. Get toys that encourage physical play
Some toys call for more physical play than others. Sure, your child might sit and inspect how it all works, but for the most part, she’ll likely want to play and be active to enjoy the toy.
A few ideas include:
- Ball pit play tent
- Balance buckets
- Ring toss or corn hole
- Pogo stick
- Bouncing ball
- Hula hoop
- Jump rope
- Soft foam balls
- Small basketball
Don’t want to buy a toy bouncing ball? A small yoga ball makes for a fun alternative. And you can even combine a few of these items to make your own obstacle course right at home.
7. Play fetch or catch
Toss a ball back and forth to each other. If you’re pregnant or not able to move as much, have your 3 year old fetch all the uncaught balls, whether it’s yours to catch or not. This allows her to run even more and prevents you from having to get too physical yourself.
A similar option you can play outdoors is tossing a Frisbee back and forth. Like playing catch, you can also have her fetch any uncaught Frisbees for added exercise.
8. Dance to music
My kids loved dancing to Just Dance on the Xbox—they even had their favorite songs and choreography. You can also find child-friendly dance videos on YouTube, particularly from the Mother Goose Club.
Want to make it even more fun? Tape bubble packaging to the floor so that your child can pop with her feet as she dances to the music. Or make it a game of freeze dance, where you turn the music off at random times and everyone has to freeze and hold their position.
9. Hop on pillows (or hula hoops) on the floor
Play a game of “lily pad” or “floor is lava” and toss pillows on the floor over a wide area. Then, have your child pretend the pillows are lily pads with water all around (or rocks surrounded by lava). The game is to hop from pillow to pillow without falling into the water or lava. Simple and easy to set up at home!
Another option is to spread hula hoops around your house and have her hop from hoop to hoop without going outside the circles. Or you can create an obstacle with cushions, laundry baskets, a cardboard box, or a blanket and have her run or crawl through tunnels to get to the other side.
10. Help with the garden
Getting outside in the garden is a fantastic way for your child to enjoy the outdoors and get physical, too. The next time you have garden tasks, enlist her help in ways that are appropriate for her age.
For instance, she can:
- Pull weeds or spent plants
- Dig holes to place new plants
- Bring you items like buckets and small shovels
- Water the plants with a watering can
11. Have a play date
Playing with other kids can often lead to plenty of physical activity, especially if you make use of playground equipment.
If your child doesn’t have other siblings to play with (or they’re too young to play with), find a play date with another child her age. Sometimes all kids need is another person their age to play with, whether that’s running around the house or going down the slide at the playground.
12. Take the stairs
A simple everyday choice for gross motor activities can be to simply take the stairs instead of an elevator when given the chance. We used to live in on the top floor of an apartment, and taking the stairs was a great way to keep moving.
If you’re out and about, see if you can take the stairs instead of an escalator or elevator (or walk up the escalator as it moves). Reserve the elevator when you have the stroller or heavy items to carry. Otherwise, try to take the stairs whenever you can.
13. Play bowling
This may not seem like an exhausting sport, but bowling can be a great way to get your child moving especially if she has to run to the other side to reposition the pins.
As simple as these ideas may be, sometimes we forget we have all these options for physical activities that develop gross motor skills at our fingertips. Having a list can be all the inspiration you need to get your child active, even if the weather is bad outside or you’re not able to move much yourself.
Because as much as I love how often my son read books and tinkered with gadgets, he also needed to be active. And that’s when a good game of bubbles or balloons—the simplest of items—can come in handy.
Get more tips:
- 20 Easy Activities for Three Year Olds You Can Do Any Day
- Play Ideas for Toddlers for the After Work Hours
- 9 Playground Rules You and Your Kids Should Remember
- How to Cope when You’re Bored Playing with Your Kids
- 25 Awesome Outdoor Activities for 3 Year Olds
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