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Physical Activities for Toddlers

Teach Your Toddler About Physical Activities

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Now that your child is a toddler, she's no longer content to play on a blanket with a few favorite toys. Now, she's becoming more mobile, growing by leaps and bounds and her need for physical activities is growing with her. Combat childhood obesity and promote the development of large motor skills with this week full of physical activities for toddlers.

Sunday - Talking and Planning

Take some time today to talk with your toddler about the physical things that she likes to do. If your toddler isn't very verbal, use your own observations of activities she's liked or disliked in the past. Use this information gathering as a springboard for planning physical activities that your toddler will not only enjoy, but will stick to doing in the future.

Monday - All the Different Ways Your Toddler's Body Can Move

Today, help your toddler explore her body and the different ways it can move. Toddlers new to walking are capable of less than even those who have been walking just a few months so be sure to start where her skills are today. Your 1-year-old will probably crawl on hands and knees up the stairs, for example, while your 2-year-old will probably be able to use the handrail and walk up the stairs. Still, encourage your child to try things she hasn't done before since motor skills develop quickly at this age. While she may not be able to get her feet off the ground today, tomorrow she'll be jumping all over the place. A good way to start exploring movement is with a game of follow the leader. There's no better role model than you.

Tuesday - Dance

Toddlers naturally love music and there's nothing better to get their little bodies moving and shaking. One of the easiest ways to incorporate physical activity into both your lives is to pick a few random songs at intervals throughout the day and just dance like crazy. Even just two or three songs quickly add up to a 10 minute session, which is just right for your toddler's attention span. If you're looking for more ways to explore dance with your toddler, think back to the silly songs and nursery rhymes of your own childhood and share those. If you don't remember the moves it's not a problem. Your toddler will never know if you make them up.

Wednesday - Take the Action Outdoors

Playground Safety
Today, focus on all the physical activities you can do outside. All that room offers maximum opportunity for your toddler to move her whole body. If you have a yard, that's great, but if you don't, head to a park or other public space or just take a walk around the neighborhood. Just be sure to leave the stroller at home. If you feel like you're running out of games to play and things to do, take along a few toys and a ball to supplement your fun and a blanket to balance play with moments of rest.

Thursday - What to Do Indoors

While the great outdoors is the optimal spot for moving those large muscle groups, it's not always possible. Days that are too hot, too cold, too wet or with poor air quality can keep you cooped up inside. Don't despair. Toddler bodies are small and there are plenty of things to do and games to play inside. You can set up an obstacle course with pillows and boxes or play games like hide and seek. Even a tornado drill can be something physical to do indoors.

Friday - Just Add Props

Pink Ball
DeclanTM / Flickr
Moving is so much fun all on its own, but when you add props it only gets better. One of the most versatile items to add to your toddler's repertoire is a ball. For young toddlers you can sit on the floor with your legs out, feet touching and take turns rolling a ball back and forth. Older twos will enjoy trying to catch, bounce and throw balls at a target or into a bucket. Another easy prop is a bean bag (with adult supervision - the filling can be a choking hazard). Cut a hole in a box or use a hula hoop on the floor for a target. A call bell placed in the hoop adds an element of positive feedback each time the bean bag lands on it. A pair of pom-poms or a stream of crepe paper taped to a paper towel tube add a new dimension to dancing.

Saturday - Chores Around the House

Don't overlook your toddler's emerging independence and abilities. It's often easier and quicker for parents to do everything themselves, but even allowing your toddler to help in the smallest ways can keep her active and teach important skills. If you don't feel confident about your toddler's abilities, then allow her to observe you at first. Call her into the kitchen when you're unloading the dishwasher, for example, rather than let her watch television or remain in her high chair or at the table. Allow her to be by your side and talk to her as you perform each task. Let her do one small thing until she does it well. When she masters that task, add another to her repertoire.

Books About Physical Activities and the Body

From Head to Toe
Photo © PriceGrabber
When choosing books to read with your toddler this week, go for books that talk about the body and encourage your child to step away from the book and move her body. Reading about unfamiliar activities can stimulate the confidence to try new things. Books with colorful illustrations are good, but books with pictures of toddlers actually engaged in physical activity are a big hit with children at this age. Toddlers aren't very competitive or knowledgeable about sports and other activities, but now is the time when their interest begins. If your toddler regularly sees an older sibling involved in ballet or soccer or knows that mom and dad love watching football, you can bring that closer to her world starting with a good book on the topic.

Keep the Fun and Learning Going by...

  • Enrolling your child in an activity class or sport
  • Making changes to your daily routine to increase activity levels, like parking farther away from store entrances or taking the stairs instead of an elevator
  • Limiting your toddler's television time - The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen time for children under 2
  • Buying toddler toys that encourage your child to be active
  • Turning all of the activities you did with your toddler this week into daily and weekly habits

Getting Siblings Involved

For younger siblings: Your active toddler and your less active infant both need your attention at the same time so choose safe spots like fenced yards and parks so that there is a boundary between your toddler and danger. If you're going on a walk bring along a stroller and let her help with the pushing. If you're dancing, put the baby in a sling so you can still move with your toddler.

For older siblings: Older kids can get frustrated with their clumsier, slower counterparts. You can take advantage of an older sibling's maturity by letting them help with things like organizing and officiating games and determine your walking route. Make sure older kids know that toddlers are less competitive and game rules may need to be simplified.

Don't Forget About You

You are the best example when it comes to getting your child moving. If you're not very active then chances are your toddler won't be either. Lead by example and let your toddler see you engaged in activity. Even just talking about activity plants a seed. It's positive reinforcement every time she hears you talk about a workout or she sees you doing yoga, taking a walk or heading out to the gym. And if you're up cleaning the house, working in the yard or making dinner, it might seem easier to let your toddler sit on the couch with a DVD or TV show. If you enlist your toddler's help instead, you'll both be more active and she'll also be learning important skills that will lead to more independence (which means less reliance on you).
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