These are the first guidelines targeting physical activity, sitting behaviour, screen time and sleep in South African
children. They have been developed in response to the research that shows how these movement behaviours are
linked to healthy growth and physical development, as well as cognitive, social and emotional development in children
from birth to 5 years.
These guidelines recommend that children from birth to 5 years should participate in a range of play-based and structured physical activities that are appropriate for their age and ability, and that are fun and safe. Children should be encouraged to do these activities independently as well as with adults and other children. Caregivers should engage in activities that are loving, and involve play and talking with children.
These guidelines also emphasise that the quality of what is done when sitting matters. For children younger than 2 years, screen time is NOT recommended. For children aged 2-5 years, sitting activities that are screen-based should be limited. The quality of sleep in children from birth to 5 years is also important, and screen time should be avoided before bed. Family members should be encouraged to avoid using screens in shared sleeping areas, especially while children are falling asleep. Children from birth to 5 years who receive support to meet these movement guidelines are likely to grow up healthier, fitter and stronger. They may also have greater motor skill abilities, be more prepared for school, manage their feelings better, and enjoy life more. The benefits of following these guidelines are greater than the potential harms.
A healthy 24-hour day includes:
Babies (birth to 1-year-old)
- Being physically active several times a day in a variety of ways through interactive floor-based play, including crawling. For babies not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day while awake, and other movements such as reaching and grasping.
- Engaging in stimulating activities with a caregiver, such as playing with safe objects and toys, having baby conversations, singing, and storytelling. Babies should NOT be strapped in and unable to move for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., in a pram, high chair, or on a caregiver’s back or chest) while awake. Screen time is NOT recommended. Screens include televisions, cell phones, tablets, video games, and computers.
- 14 to 17 hours (for babies aged 0-3 months) and 12 to 16 hours (for babies aged 4-11 months) of good quality sleep, including naps in the day. Sleeping may occur while a baby is strapped to a caregiver, or while a baby is being held.
Toddlers (1 and 2 years old)
- At least 180 minutes spent in a variety of physical activities including energetic play, spread throughout the day; more is better.
- Engaging in activities that promote development such as reading, singing, games with blocks, puzzles, and storytelling with a caregiver. Toddlers should NOT be strapped in and unable to move for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., in a pram, high chair or strapped on a caregiver’s back or chest), and should not sit for extended periods. For toddlers younger than 2 years, screen time is NOT recommended. For toddlers aged 2 years, screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better.
- 11 to 14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps in the day, with consistent sleep and wake-up times.
Pre-schoolers (3, 4 and 5 years old)
- At least 180 minutes spent in a variety of physical activities, of which at least 60 minutes is energetic play that raises their heart rate and makes them ‘huff and puff’ (e.g. running, jumping, dancing), spread throughout the day; more is better.
- Engaging in activities such as reading, singing, puzzles, arts and crafts, and storytelling with a caregiver and other children. Pre-schoolers should NOT be strapped in and unable to move for more than 1 hour at a time and should not sit for extended periods. Screen time should be no more than 1 hour per day; less is better.
- 10 to 13 hours of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with consistent sleep and wake-up times.
Helping children from birth to 5 years to stick to these guidelines may be challenging at times! For children who are not meeting these guidelines, it is recommended that small changes are made to help them start working towards what is stated in these guidelines.
To further support children from birth to 5 years in their movement behaviours over a 24-hour day, encourage them to do more energetic play, choose age-appropriate, interactive sitting activities instead of sitting or lying in front of a screen, and to get enough sleep. This will help them enjoy greater benefits to their health and development.
Further details on how to achieve these guidelines are available at www.laureus.co.za.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day.