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Active play for children and youth

Active play involves physical movement during play and is natural for children and youth. It’s usually unplanned, self-directed and fun.  Active play lets children and youth try new things, test their own abilities, and enjoy being active. It helps them build movement skills (for example, agility, balance and coordination) and gain confidence to be active in different environments. This is called physical literacy. Developing confidence in these movement skills help people to be active for life.  

The following video teaches children and youth about the importance of physical and health literacy in a fun and engaging way. Even adults can gain movement skills when they try new and different physical activities. (Video is closed captioned).


It helps to know what movement skills to expect at different ages. See what the Canadian Pediatric Society says about what to expect for your child’s development.

For a list of activity ideas to develop movement skills see Active for Life – Raising Physically Literate Kids.

Active play has been shown to improve:

  • Gross and fine motor skills
  • Creativity
  • Decision-making
  • Problem-solving
  • Controlling emotions and behaviours
  • Social skills – sharing, taking turns, helping others, working out conflicts
  • Speech (in preschoolers)

Many parents will remember long hours spent outdoors when they were kids, exploring the neighbourhood running and playing in ways that was thrilling, exciting and challenging.  These experiences are largely missing from today’s children and youth who are spending many hours sitting inside often interacting with the world through electronic devices. 

Parents and caregivers can encourage more active play when (after giving guidance) they let their children figure out for themselves how to deal with risks that come from challenging and thrilling play. Usually occurring outside, challenging and thrilling play can include things like climbing to higher heights, moving faster or using tools. 

When children learn over time how to manage risk in play, this increases their interest in being active. It also helps them to:

  • develop important life skills (e.g. problem-solving);
  • self-confidence (i.e. believe in/trust themselves);
  • self-esteem (i.e. feel good about themselves); and
  • resilience (i.e. able to cope and recover/bounce back).

These are some of the important benefits that come from learning to manage risks during play.

Every child is a little different. What’s appropriate will depend on their age and stage of development. It will also depend on whether they have managed risks in play before.

Discuss potential risks with your child. Teach them what they need to know, but also give them freedom to work some things out for themselves. Play should be as safe as needed, not as safe as possible.

Use this online tool at It can help you to gain confidence in letting your children to take part in more active outdoor play with its risks.

Play in nature supports children and youth to be active for longer periods of time.  It can get them moving in different ways (e.g. climbing hills, balancing on logs, and building forts) and feeling good about themselves.

Connecting with nature is also good for mental health and wellbeing, and promotes quality of life.

The following video describes the 3 key ingredients for supporting children’s outdoor play – time, space and freedom (video is close captioned).


 Natural outdoor areas such as parks, forests, meadows, and gardens are spaces that encourage a variety of play and physical activity for people of all ages and abilities.  They can provide shade and create cooler, more comfortable places to be.

For more information and a video from Parks Canada about the importance of nature in our lives, please see Tools for parents and caregivers: 

Learn more about 18 ways to get kids to go outside from Active for Life. Visit Have a Ball Together! from the Best Start Resource Centre for outdoor activity ideas for all seasons.

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