Many parents wonder: When is the best time to get kids involved with sports? Well, the answer really depends on the type of sport we’re talking about. If the activities are well-suited for the age group, kids at every stage can benefit from playing sports.
When it comes to preschoolers, this is especially important. At the ages of three and four, some organized sports with intricate rules can be too challenging. To that end, it can be helpful to know how your little one is developing emotionally and the most age-appropriate activities for them at this young age. Since your little one is still developing coordination, they are working with limited physical ability. That doesn’t mean that they can’t or shouldn’t play some versions of these sports adapted just for them, though.
Sports for early childhood can actually offer great benefits, both mental and physical, in the long term—and set them up for success if they do decide to get more involved in sports as they get older. Join our Raleigh preschool staff as we uncover the best sports activities for preschoolers.
The Best Sports Activities for Preschoolers
So, what sports activities for preschoolers should you start with? We’ve put together a list of some of our favorites at Primary Beginnings. Some we have worked into our own curriculum for our preschoolers throughout the years and others come highly recommended by parents of many of our students.
Let’s start with one that can be played both inside and outside—good news in the middle of the summer heat when you and your preschooler may need a break from the high temperatures: An obstacle course!
While not technically a “sport” when considered by itself, an obstacle course offers the chance to introduce and integrate skills from other games. The only real limits here are your imagination and the space you’re working with. Set up a course that includes obstacles that you can climb over, crawl under, or hop through, with stations or stops where you can have kids shoot a puck into a goal, or toss a ball through a net.
And, if you want to make it indoor-friendly, you can swap out a few of the more outside-friendly pieces. For instance, opt for balloons instead of kick balls, or use (safe) indoor furniture in the game itself. Crawl under the dining table, hopscotch over to the kitchen, jump rope over to the living room, and end by completing a puzzle on the coffee table.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory, and you’ve most likely played it countless times yourself. Roll or throw a ball (definitely stick with smaller, softer ones for younger children) toward the other person, and have them catch it and then throw or roll it back. This is great for developing both hand-eye coordination and sharing skills.
This can be played with just two people, or with a group of nearly any size. In a group, you can even make an educational game out of it by starting with a question. Whoever the ball is thrown to then has a chance to answer!
Just as we mentioned earlier, some of the best sports activities for preschoolers are just popular sports that have been “watered down” a bit for a younger crowd. Tee ball is probably the most well-known version of this.
The rules are based on those of softball or baseball, but in this case, the ball is placed on a tee set at the appropriate height for the player at bat. Then, the player runs to a base, and the rest of the game follows rules very similar to that of softball. The other most significant difference is in the size of the field. A tee-ball field is much smaller than those used to play baseball or softball.
Tee-ball is especially great for building hand-eye coordination, and learning how to play on a team.
While more rigorous and formal dance training isn’t recommended until children are slightly older, although children as young as 3 years old thoroughly enjoy dance classes. Introducing the basics of dance to younger kids can be a key part of healthy development.
Sure, this can involve signing your preschooler up for a ballet class, but it can also be as simple as making music and movement a big part of play. Dancing around the kitchen, hopping around the backyard, and even simple choreography can be a fun way to exercise muscle memory and develop a good mind-body connection.
In addition to coordination, dance and music have been shown to help retain and process new information. Thus, dance is a great way to encourage cognitive development.
Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations for the ideal age for children to begin swimming lessons: Now, they believe that swimming lessons can begin around age one, citing findings that water survival skills training can help reduce drowning risk for children between the ages of one and four.
This is especially good news for parents looking for ways to start their preschoolers out in sports while still staying cool during the summer. Just be sure that your toddler or preschooler has constant adult supervision in the pool, and that an adult is always within arm’s reach when children are in the water, even when staying on tanning ledges or in the shallow end.
If you want to share additional water safety tips with your child before allowing them to enter the pool, you can read our complete article on pool safety to ensure everyone has a safe and fun time. Swimming has tons of benefits even for younger children, including muscle development, lung health, and social skills. It’s also great for developing strength, flexibility, and balance. This makes it one of our favorite sports activities for preschoolers!
Benefits of Staying Active
When it comes to sports activities for preschoolers, fun isn’t the only benefit. There are countless studies and reports indicating that learning the basics of sports at an early age can be enormously beneficial for both mental and physical health.
Social and Mental Health Benefits of Exercise for Kids
From leadership and sportsmanship to reduced anxiety, the mental and social benefits of sports speak for themselves.
Being part of a team where they can feel supported by and support their peers, has been shown to help even young children with their self-confidence. Plus, the sense of accomplishment that comes along with playing a sport may boost self-esteem, giving preschoolers a better foundation in the coming years.
As mentioned above, being on a team of their peers comes with some major benefits for preschoolers. Interacting with others their age to work together fosters everything from empathy and creativity to a strong sense of self.
At the same time, kids learn how to take turns, wait for their own turn, and follow directions —things that aren’t always so easy to instill in three- and four-year-olds.
Physical activity, even in small doses, reduces the production of certain stress hormones and stimulates endorphins to help with mood regulation. When children have an outlet for emotions like stress or anxiety, they may be better equipped to handle it in the future.
Physical Health Benefits of Exercise for Kids
On top of mental health benefits, there are plenty of physical health benefits that come along with sports activities for preschoolers.
Running, jumping, throwing, and other movements associated with these sports help children improve their motor functions like coordination, and building and strengthening vital neural pathways to support those functions that will last for the rest of their lives.
Developing a positive relationship with sports and physical activity at a young age helps with your preschooler’s physical fitness and health both now and in the future.
Movements like stretching help promote flexibility, a key element of overall physical health throughout one’s life. Regular physical activity can build and strengthen muscles of various kinds. For instance, exercises commonly done by athletes in warm-ups have been shown to benefit both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle tissue, both of which are necessary for healthy development.
Exercise also encourages the healthy development and maintenance of the heart and lungs, building a strong foundation for the cardiorespiratory system.
Starting children in sports at a young age is a great way to build healthy habits that can last them the rest of their lives. With every sport they try, they learn more about themselves, develop new skills, and build stronger social bonds.
Research has even found that those who participate in sports at a younger age are five to six times more likely to be active later on in life.
Tips for Introducing Sports Activities for Preschoolers
Here are a few things we recommend you keep in mind when introducing your toddler or preschooler to sports. These will help ensure that they maintain a fun and positive association with health and fitness.
Keep it Simple
At this stage in development, it’s really just about learning the essentials. Don’t get too involved in the minutia of the sport, just focus on the fun.
Those more elaborate rules and regulations will come into play later on in life when they join teams and have already developed a strong foundation with the basics.
Listen to your Preschooler
While you may want your child to be a dance or football savant, it just might not be their thing. If they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves, or they seem to be getting frustrated, it may be time to try a new activity. You can always come back to it later, it may just be that they aren’t quite ready for that game.
One of the biggest benefits of introducing sports at a young age is that it can develop patience. Whether it’s taking turns with other children or listening to the rules, young kids see the benefits of listening and taking their time through these activities. In order to keep that lesson going, it’s vital that you stay patient with them as well.
Help your Preschooler Stay Active by Contacting Primary Beginnings Today
It’s clear that participating in sports activities for preschoolers has several benefits. These activities allow them to get a jump start on developing their motor skills, communication skills, relationship-building skills, and creativity. Whether it’s recognizing patterns, following rules, working together on a team, or fostering spatial and body awareness, your preschooler can learn from sports while still having the time of their lives.
If you’re a parent or caretaker looking for ways to involve your child in sports activities, there’s no better place to start than at Primary Beginnings. Our early childhood education programs and summer camp activities are designed to nurture both educational and physical development. They can include anything from horseback riding to in-classroom games, all focused on fun while promoting learning in some shape or form.
Our summer activities vary each year, but our instructors consistently develop a curriculum that creates a holistic learning environment where children can thrive.
Primary Beginnings has available spots for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. We have three 5-star child care centers in Raleigh. We encourage you to schedule a tour and enroll your child in our Raleigh preschool, where we support your child’s mental and physical journey. Fill out the form below, or call the corresponding location you’re interested in to get started.