With the promise of spring comes the hope of warmer weather – at least for those of us in the Pacific Northwest. For kids, spring brings the opportunity to play outdoors. For toddlers and preschoolers specifically, playing is how they learn and it sets the foundations for skills they will use for the rest of their lives. For kids of this age, play time is often associated with movement as they walk, run, climb, jump gallop, etc. Play time also helps develop cognitive, social, and problem solving skills, as well as emotional well being.
When playing with your toddler or preschooler, it is important to remember what motor skills they have mastered. By 18 months of age, most children can walk well, walk backwards, and even climb. By age two, most children can run, have started jumping and can kick a ball. At age three, most kids can ride a tricycle, walk up the stairs one foot in front of the other, and have the coordination to throw. As children continue to grow, they refine their balance and coordination skills to start skipping, galloping, and hopping. Likewise, their aim becomes more refined with throwing and overall.
It is important to allow your child to have unstructured playtime and allow them to create and choose activities that fill their needs. There are also recommendations by the Nemours Foundation and other organizations that an hour of of structured activities can be good for toddlers. Try incorporating activities such as obstacle courses, dancing to music, moving around like animals, or pretending to be part of the Olympics. Vary the amount of imagination and physical skills needed to match your child’s abilities.
Playing as a family can create good habits that your child will continue for the rest of their lives. It is also an excellent time to bond with your child. At this age, toddlers think their parents are the superheros of the world, so it is important for parents to model good physical activities. Take them for walks, let them see you dance or climb, and involve them in the family’s favorite physical fitness activities.
The Pediatric Section of the American Physical Therapy Association has a great resource sheet for healthcare consumers here. HealthyChildren.org by the American Academy of Pediatrics also has a good overview of the importance of playtime for your toddler. If you or someone you know has concerns about a child’s ability to participate in physical activities (such as he or she cannot keep up with other children his/her age) or you need ideas on how to incorporate physical fitness into a child’s daily routine to promote growth and development, please contact one of our therapists at Beyond the Clinic. You can reach us at: (503) 496-0385. We would be more than happy to answer your questions, provide ideas of appropriate activities for different aged children, or see your child for an evaluation if necessary.
(Blog post courtesy of Crystal Bridges, DPT)