Toddlers are known for being an active bunch. They like to explore, move around, and try new things. Pediatricians typically recommend that toddlers get at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity every day. They also recommend at least 60 minutes daily of active play or unstructured physical activity.
These goals can be challenging to meet on days when you are stuck inside, though—especially if you feel like you are short on ideas. To make getting moving a little easier, we have put together some activities you can do at home to make sure your toddler stays active and engaged. Plan to do several activities each day and stretch each activity to 10 minutes or longer if your toddler’s attention span will allow it.
Get creative and use whatever you have around the house to build a toddler-appropriate obstacle course. For instance, you could begin with a climb over a big pillow followed by a crawl through a cardboard box, a circle around a footstool, and finally a dash through a doorway.
Clear away any obstacles in case your child stumbles while going through the course. And, add to the fun of this toddler activity by starting the race with a whistle. You can even use a crepe paper ribbon in the doorway for them to break through at the finish line.
Hide and Seek
Some toddlers might be frightened by hiding or not being able to find you if you hide, so exercise caution when playing this game. Hide in obvious areas with a leg or arm visible at first until they are comfortable playing.
Initially, when you begin the game (by counting and then announcing “ready or not, here I come”) you may need to count for your child. You can also just count very slowly to three in order to teach counting—and then work up incrementally to 10.
If your toddler wants a turn hiding, take time to explain the unsafe places to hide particularly those where they might suffocate. For instance, they should not try to hide in a freezer or refrigerator, a plastic bin with lid, the dryer, a vehicle, or a cedar chest. You may want to limit your area of hiding to just one or two rooms to ensure you know where they are at all times.
Dancing to music is an excellent way to work in some physical activity. Toddlers are naturally inclined to love music and move their bodies along with it. Turn on some boppy tunes while making lunch or to get your child motivated to clean up their toys.
You also can be more spontaneous if you want and pick three random songs and just start grooving. Or, you can plan a little dance party for your toddler. The key is to get them moving to the music and make it fun.
If you already do some type of organized exercise at home, like aerobics or yoga, get your toddler involved. While it is unlikely your toddler will want to do the entire workout with you and will instead opt to play nearby, you can invite them to join you for the warm-up or maybe just the last 10 minutes.
You can also build in an additional toddler-friendly 10 minutes at the end to cool down or even add a special yoga sequence just for them. Even though this workout might be for your benefit, it is a good idea for them to share this experience with you and learn from your example.
Stretching is a great way to squeeze in some physical activity. You can teach your toddler to stretch each morning or practice stretching after you have been sitting for a while, such as after reading or watching a movie.
Call out stretches like, “reach to the sky and keep reaching,” “touch your toes,” or “bend to the side.” Just keep it simple and show your little one how to stretch their muscles. Soon they will be able to do it on their own.
The point of a parade is something near and dear to a toddler’s heart—showing off and celebrating. So anytime you have cause, put on some marching music and go.
New shoes, potty training success, or mastering a new skill? These are all reasons to happily strut through all the rooms of the house. Or, you can play dress up and have a parade as part of the experience. If your child knows or is learning how to gallop, skip, or hop, incorporate these moves into your parade too.
To make your parade even more enjoyable, help your child decorate a banner or sign to carry. Then arrange a crowd of stuffed animals to watch, and wave to them as you parade past.
Pick several toys, balls, or other objects and hide them around your home. You can create a list with drawings or pictures of the objects and help your toddler cross them off.
Refrain from hiding things in difficult spots and exercise caution when hiding beloved objects like security blankets or pacifiers. Always ask your toddler first before hiding these items.
Some toddlers love this idea and think it’s fun to find their favorite things. But others might have a meltdown at the mere thought of being separated from their most prized possessions.
Up and Down Game
Let your toddler hold an object (flags are especially fun for this game) and tell them to raise it high if you say a word that is high or hold it low if it’s something that is low. So, if you say “ant” then they would hold the flag low because ants are usually on the ground. And, if you say “sky” they would hold the flag high.
Vary the game by having them jump when something is high or crouch low when something is low. Overall, this game is a great way to not only get them moving but also to challenge them intellectually.
And if they respond “high” when you think it should be low, ask them in fun way why they chose their answer (maybe the ants have climbed a tree!). Some toddlers may even decide to make the game more interesting by purposefully giving the wrong answers. Be sure to laugh and play along with their silliness.
Use double-sided tape to create a spider web on a poster board. If your toddler is interested, allow them to help make the web.
Then prop up the poster and arm your toddler with a bag full of cotton balls. Have them toss the cotton balls at the spider web to see how many they can get to stick.
Try variations of the game by having them stand on one leg when tossing the cotton ball or using different hands to throw. They also can see if they can form different patterns on the web with the cotton balls.
Clothespin and Milk Jug Games
Take a half-gallon or gallon plastic milk jug and clean it thoroughly. Purchase old-fashioned ball-top clothespins that don’t have a spring. They are constructed of a single piece of wood and fit easily inside the opening of the jug.
For fine motor practice, let your toddler fill the jug. As an added bonus, have them practice counting the clothespins as they place them inside the jug.
Then, for a fun physical activity, have them hold the jug upside-down by the handle and shake it vigorously until all the clips fall out. They also can try jumping to see if that helps the clothespins fall out. Then make cleaning up another fun activity!