According to pediatric experts, toddlers shouldn't be inactive for more than one hour at a time (unless they are sleeping). That means that as much as you might enjoy the break you get when your little one is chilling out with cartoons or turning pages in that mail-order catalog that caught her attention, you want to encourage her to get moving after an hour spent sitting around. Normally, that isn't a problem anyway, since at this stage of development nothing is likely to hold your toddler's attention for more than a few minutes.
So while more or less constant motion is both a good thing and inevitable for toddlers, you might wonder what type of activities are best for your child's development. The types of activities will depend largely on your child's interest, his gross motor skills at this point, and your comfort zone since it can sometimes be hard to let little ones go free and risk injury. Experts offer two general guidelines for active play between 12 months and 36 months of age:
- provide at least 30 minutes of structured play each day
- allow your child at least 60 minutes of free play time (unstructured physical activity) per day
Structured Play Time
Structured physical activity is sometimes referred to as adult-led activity. Think of it as times when you are teaching your child a skill such as how to kick or throw or ride a bike. If your child receives physical therapy, activities he does with his therapist might also be considered structured play time.
You can also include any formal classes you have your child enrolled in. While classes are not necessary for toddler development, there are some great options for young children, including:
For most toddlers, unstructured physical activity makes up the bulk of their day. While she may welcome your presence and occasional interaction, your child will very likely not need much from you to enjoy herself. Toddlers can entertain themselves for amazingly long stretches doing the most mundane seeming activities like racing from the couch to the love seat or filling a cup on the table with rocks from your garden. Don't assume that you need to step in at all to "add" to these games. She's learning about her environment and her own body and as long as she's happy and safe, you can just let her be. Of course there are plenty of times when your toddler does want and need you to help them make the most of play time. Some suggestions:
- Turn simple everyday items into play things. Laundry, pillows, cups, and other things laying around the house are pure magic to toddlers.
- Invest in a few key active play items. Ride-on toys are a great way to help toddlers use up some energy while building strength and balance. A sturdy sand and water table or kiddie pool will keep kids moderately active while enjoying the outdoors. And, of course, a variety of balls are always a hit.
- Take him to the park. It can be hard to watch your little one stumble and crash a bit as he masters the equipment, but by adhering to some basic playground safety rules you can ensure a fine time.