Originally published: February 2022
Children are like little sponges—they’re always absorbing! Though it may not always seem like it, they listen to what we say, watch what we do, and follow our lead. This is especially true when it comes to active living—there may be no greater influence on a child’s level of physical activity than the parent or family.
Active living boosts physical and mental health, and can improve school performance, self-esteem, and social emotional development. It also helps families create shared experiences, memories, and bonds.
Here are some tips to get your whole family moving.
Make physical activity a way of life
Physical activity gets easier when it’s a natural part of everyday life. As much as you can, weave active living into your family’s routines, norms, and culture. For example:
- Travel in active ways. Set an example by walking or wheeling to get groceries or to go to work. Help your kids learn safe, active ways to get to school—with support and practice, they might be able to bike, rollerblade, scoot, or even snowshoe for all or part of the journey.
- Encourage free play and unstructured time. Give your kids time, space, and opportunity to move in ways that make sense to them. They might jump in puddles, build forts, or set up indoor obstacle courses. Try not to direct what they’re doing—let them imagine, create, and explore.
- Get outside in all types of weather. Each season presents families with unique ways to get active. Whether your kids are raking leaves with their grandparents or sledding with friends, it’s likely that they’re moving more, sitting less, and feeling good.
Plan for active days
Daily responsibilities can take time away from physical activity. As a family, commit to getting active as much as possible, and plan how you’ll make it happen. Every family is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Try these ideas, and do what works for you:
- Set family goals for how much time you’ll spend getting active each day, week, or month.
- Make a written plan or calendar of the activities each member of your family will do. This technique helps to keep adults accountable, and it’s a handy life skill for kids to learn and practice.
- Get everyone involved in choosing and leading family physical activities. Kids are more likely to take part when they’ve had a say in the decision-making.
- Have family conversations about why it’s important to balance time spent sweating, stepping, sitting, and sleeping. Try the Build Your Best Day online tool for ideas and conversation-starters.
- Keep it interesting! Encourage a variety of activities, including heart-pumping, vigorous physical activities (like jumping rope, dancing, or running) and light physical activities (like stretching, walking, or yoga).
- Set an example for your kids by continuing to do physical activities you enjoy, and inviting them to take part.
Model and encourage healthy screen use
Reflect on what appropriate screen use looks like for your family. Devices like phones, TVs, and tablets can pull our time and attention away from physical activity, conversation, and connection. Some families find it helpful to make written plans, pledges, or agreements that:
- Limit the amount of screen time that is acceptable
- Designate screen-free zones in the home, like bedrooms or the dinner table
- Prioritize screen-free family activities, like bike rides, bowling, or nature walks
- Put screen time to use, with a focus on screen-based activities that promote movement, like dance-based video games, geocaching, or how-to videos to learn a new skill
Have fun with it!
Keep family physical activity focused on fun. Model how to let go of things like ability, achievement, or competition. Studies show that enjoyment matters more—when kids do physical activities they love, they tend to stick with them for life. Here’s what you can do:
- Let your kids choose their active clubs, sports, and teams (even if they’re not the same ones you would choose).
- Challenge your family to try new activities together or start active traditions—go ice fishing, play cricket, or try winter camping.
- Connect with culture—explore physical activities, sports, and games linked to your family’s heritage or diverse cultures. For example, try Ukrainian dance, traditional Indigenous games, or Nordic skiing.Accept that sometimes your kids would rather get active with their friends than family—it’s only natural! Help them meet up with friends for active play, organized activities, or just to spend time outside.
- Play with your kids, even as they get older. Have dance parties! Make scavenger hunts! Play catch! Move more, and sit less. You’ll be glad you did.
For more tips for your active family, go to:
For financial assistance to get your kids into a sport or physical activity, go to Jump Start: Individual child grants.