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Toddlercizing at Home

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #87, 2009.

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Melissa Morgan


Harried homeschool parents, get healthy and in shape-Grab your toddler, kick a ball, dance to a music tape, or play an active game together! Most youngsters can bop ’til you drop, so it’s fun to see how long mom or dad can last.

Preschoolers don’t require expensive health, hygiene and physical education programs. Still, it makes sense to plan. What do our kids need to know?

Homeschoolers can individualize health and fitness plans according to each child’s needs. As we see that our child becomes proficient in a skill, we simply check it off. M. Jean Soyke offers checklists, such as gross motor goals, in her Early Education at Home: A Curriculum Guide for Parents of Preschoolers and Kindergarteners. You can also download a free fitness guide, for ages six and up, from the President’s Challenge, fitness.gov/challenge/index.html. Our family valued the following goals; feel free to add, subtract, and adapt it to your child.

Goals for My Healthy and Fit Child

  • Puts spiritual health first: Morning prayer and Bible verse memorization
  • Dresses self in appropriate, clean clothes and brushes hair (may need help if long hair)
  • Exercises daily: bunny hops, jumping jacks, ball bounces, or balloon catches
  • Washes hands before meals consistently (count to 20 or say ABCs), without reminders
  • Covers coughs and sneezes into shoulder or tissue—then washes hands
  • Keeps hands away from face, and doesn’t use others’ personal items
  • Learns the basic food groups
  • Knows the difference between “healthy foods” and treats
  • Knows benefits of healthy foods and exercise
  • Practices age-appropriate gross motor goals (climbing, catching, hopping on one foot, etc.)
  • Naps or spends quiet time during afternoon
  • Eats healthy food without complaint
  • Learns reason for any medications or vitamins given by parents
  • Runs own bathwater (parent monitors) and washes self thoroughly
  • Understands the importance of a good night’s sleep for children and parents
  • Sets timer half hour before bedtime, put on night clothes
  • Limits or avoids stimulating television or electronic games close to bedtime
  • Plays quiet board games, reads, or does creative projects to wind down for sleep
  • Brushes every tooth surface, minimal checking by parents (use timer and disclosing tablets)
  • Gets ready for bed on time without complaining (reward with extra reading time)

Very young children appreciate a picture reminder chart for daily activities. Post the chart in a prominent place, such as on a bathroom mirror or step stool. Kids enjoy helping make their own chart and drawing or coloring the pictures. If you wish, you could number each item on the list. Kids who can write may want to write their daily goals in their own simple planner.

You may wish to spell out simple, logical consequences for not following guidelines. For instance, a child who doesn’t eat veggies gets no dessert. A child who dawdles at bedtime doesn’t get a bedtime story.

Create your own colorful food group place mats with poster board. Collect old magazines with pictures of healthy food. Ask relatives and friends to save magazines for you. Cut out pictures and paste or tape them onto placemat-size poster board. Label the placemats and let your child write or trace the words. Cover with clear plastic and enjoy your healthy meals!

Fitness goals at our house vary not just by age, but also by season. For instance, in bad weather and ill health we can still find ways to exercise inside. In the summer, walks and bike riding can take precedence over indoor activities.

If the weather outside is frightful, find ways to play healthy indoor games. Try oldie but favorite games that don’t require batteries, such as Musical Chairs, Hide and Seek, and that old stand-bye, 21 Pick Up. (See who can pick up 21 objects first!) Even housework can be healthy. New research shows cleaning up offers great exercise; your toddler will love to “help” with housework if you find child-sized tools for him or her to use.

Game machines and computers increasingly offer relatively inexpensive choices to get families moving, such as electronic sports games, rhythm games, and Dance, Dance Revolution. You don’t need the newest program or game machines—most young kids won’t be able to use all the fancy features anyway. Our family uses an obsolete game machine, dance game, and mat, but it still helps us have fun and get moving.

If you already own a computer, you can purchase a PC-compatible dance mat/pad controller. Try the free dance software from StepMania.com. Older kids will especially welcome the inexhaustible variety of games for StepMania.

If we play store and other pretend games with our kids, we model healthy behavior, and our kids never even realize they are learning.

Ask, “What are good foods to sell in our store?” Help kids write their own menu and open a healthy snack café. An inexpensive set of kid dishes, in a lower kitchen cabinet, can foster healthy play. Kids can play picnic with dolls and stuffed animals inside or outside, using a blanket and play food.

You may wish to encourage fitness and positive social training through local homeschool or community sports activities and classes. However, wise parents carefully screen activities, as socialization can instill either positive or negative traits in our children. Are outward appearances valued instead of helpfulness toward others? Do the adults and children in the program model Christlike behavior and good sportsmanship and character? Or is the emphasis on winning at all costs? Contact your local homeschool support group to find healthy outdoor sports opportunities with like-minded families.

After an active day, snuggle down and reinforce goals with a story. In The Berenstain Bears Play a Good Game by Jan and Michael Berenstain, Brother and Sister Bear learn about pleasing God and the importance of fair play and sportsmanship for both players and coaches. Read books such as Oh, the Things You Can Do That Are Good For You! by Tish Rabe and The Tooth Book by Dr. Seuss and others. Dr. William Sears’ Eat Healthy, Feel Great book illustrates healthy eating with a simple system of red light (stop!), yellow light (sometimes), and green light (go!) foods.

Let’s get moving! As we model healthy behavior for our youngsters, we reap a premium in our own improved physical condition. We can enjoy a healthy, happy, homeschool life, together with our children.

Melissa L. Morgan is the co-author of Educational Travel on a Shoestring and Homeschooling on a Shoestring. With her husband, Hugh, she has homeschooled their three children from birth, taking advantage of many educational opportunities in the real world. She invites you to visit her website at www.eaglesnesthome.com.


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