Your baby can’t swim the length of a pool in the blink of an eye, or steer a thousand-pound horse over a jump. But she can perform some amazing physical feats of her own! Give your tot lots of opportunities to move around and keep her headed in the right direction. She just needs a safe open space, a toy or two, and you! Encourage her by playing along in these sports and games that babies and toddlers love.
Prop your baby in a seated position, if she can’t yet sit on her own, and gently roll a ball toward her. She’ll use her eyes to track its movement and eventually will want to reach for it herself.
This pre-crawl activity builds strength in your baby’s neck, arms, and upper body. Make it more fun by placing him on a colorful mat or setting a baby-safe mirror in front of him. He loves faces, so that sweet smile he sees (his own!) will motivate him to lift up his head and look.
Once your baby is comfy sitting in water (with you supporting her), she may enjoy splashing in a bathtub or wading pool. Show how patting the water rewards her with jumping and dancing droplets. Toys that float will fascinate, too. And when your toddler can toddle, she’ll enjoy a water table that’s just her size, for dunking her toys and making a splash. (Never leave your baby or toddler alone when she’s in or near water.)
The tummy-time event (above) leads naturally to a crawling marathon! When your little one starts pushing himself onto his hands and knees, he is getting ready to crawl. Prompt him by putting his favorite toy or book just out of reach so he instinctively reaches out a hand to it. Before long, he will be the fastest little human on all fours—at least around your house.
This event is a favorite of tots the world over. Instead of feeling frustrated when baby chucks her toys over the side of her crib or off her high-chair tray, play along! She’s working her arm muscles and learning about cause and effect. So let her throw. As you pick up the toys and return them, narrate the event’s highlights. Playing sportscaster makes the game more fun for you, and it helps build her vocabulary.
As your baby learns to use his arms to pull himself up to stand, your sturdy living-room or family-room couch is super handy: it’s soft, yet strong—perfect for helping an almost-walker practice standing and moving. After your little one gets good at cruising with two hands on the couch, offer him a toy to hold as he moves along. Now he’s working on balance, a skill he’ll need to start walking independently.
Now this is a fun event, even for a tired mama. Park yourself flat on the floor and, presto! You’re a climbing structure for your kiddo. Like the couch, you provide a safe way for your child to experiment with different positions and new strategies for getting around. And the whole time, she’s working on motor skills like reaching, grabbing (not your hair, we hope), and stretching.
For a musical event, sing songs with your baby and introduce hand and arm motions. When he’s little, move his hands to patty-cake and the “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” As he grows, he can perfect moves on his own.
New walkers love push toys, whether you have a wagon, grocery cart, or doll stroller. Show your toddler how you can put dolls, blocks, play food, or other toys in the cargo area and give them a ride around the room.