Toddlers are always on the move, but there are still plenty of opportunities to model new movements and work with toddlers on developing their physical skills. As they begin to master basic physical skills, such as running, jumping, and balancing, toddlers will become more confident in their ability to be physically active while also becoming more comfortable with their bodies. This means they’ll want to participate in more physical activities and will enjoy putting their new physical skills to good use as they have fun being active. Steve Sanders, EdD, provides caregivers and parents with some wonderful tips on helping toddlers develop their physical skills in Encouraging Physical Activity in Toddlers. Here’s just a small sample of the information he shares in the book: 

Tracking Skills

  • Bubbles – In addition to improving tracking skills, bubbles can also help children learn about shape, size, and weight. Blow bubbles into the air and ask toddlers to reach out and touch the bubbles as a way to help them develop catching skills. You can also ask them to do some of the following bubble activities:
    • Reach out to clap their hands and pop bubbles (encourages toddlers to get on their tiptoes and stretch many muscles in the body).
    • Poke bubbles with a finger.
    • Pop bubbles with both their left and right hands.
    • Jump in the air and strike bubbles with their hands.
    • Stomp on bubbles with their feet as the bubbles reach the ground.
    • Pop bubbles with different body parts (elbow, fingers, knee, nose, head, and so on). 
  • Using a Flashlight – Work on developing visual tracking skills with toddlers by using a flashlight. Shine the light on the wall in front of the toddler (make sure toddlers won’t trip over anything in the space). Move the flashlight beam slowly at first, and ask the toddler to move so he or she can touch the light on the wall. You can then move the light up and down, right and left, and fast and slow. Another option is to give the flashlight to the toddler, and have him or her move it while you touch the beam of light. 

Balancing Skills

  • Beanbag Balancing – Give each toddler a beanbag, and start the activity with a few fun static-balance activities. Ask toddlers to balance beanbags on their heads, knees, feet, backs, elbows, or foreheads. If needed, you can assist a toddler by placing the beanbag on the body part for him or her. Once you feel toddlers have mastered balancing beanbags while standing or sitting still, ask them to balance a beanbag on a body part while walking or slowly spinning in a circle.
  • Balance Beams – Keep in mind that balance beams don’t have to be fancy or expensive. You can simply draw a chalk line on a sidewalk, put a line of masking tape on the floor, or lay a 1” x 4” board in the grass. Ask toddlers to walk across the balance beam or line without losing balance or placing a foot off the line/beam. As children gain confidence, they can move to a slightly higher beam or try different balancing challenges.

Most of a toddler’s physical activity will come from unstructured play, but you can introduce new equipment or movements with structured play before letting them explore on their own or as a group.

Check out our selection of Active Play materials in the Infant and Toddler Care section of our website, and be sure to visit the Kaplan Blog to read the first blog post of our three-part Get Kids Moving blog series. The third and final installment will be posted soon!