To gain big benefits, make sure your tot gets plenty of safe, age-appropriate movement. With you right there to support him, he will acquire muscle strength, coordination, heart and bone health, cognition, and self-esteem. Each of the activities below are fun to do—at home, at a park, or on the go, and they take five minutes (or less) to complete. Have fun, and don’t forget to cheer on your little athlete each time he finishes a game.
Game 1: So She Thinks She Can Dance
Looking for a fun way to get your child moving? Pump up the volume with a kids’ or pop radio station on your phone or home audio system. Then, hold your tot and let the rhythm inspire her. If she can stand or walk on her own, encourage a little footwork: show her how to move her feet to the beat, step forward, step back, and so forth. Rustle up pots, pans, and utensils for younger babies. Demonstrate how to use them as drums and cymbals, and encourage your child to get her arms and torso moving. Younger tots can bounce to the beat from a sitting or standing position, or crawl toward you or a favorite object.
Game 2: Hide-and-Seek for Toddlers
Grab your youngster’s favorite sound-producing toy and hide it in plain sight—or wherever he can easily find it. Encourage him to crawl or walk toward the sound; either way, he’ll give his arms, legs, neck, and back a pint-size workout. Once he finds the toy, cheer, explore the toy together, and hide it again to keep the game going. No sound-producing toys? No problem. Hide, and make a few fun sounds—a moo or a woof, for example—to help him find you. Increase the distance gradually. Show your child how to bend, squat, and stretch to find the toy (or you) and engage all his muscles.
Game 3: Family-Room Obstacle Course
Place toddler-safe items around a pared-down room (remove breakables, sharp objects, and other impediments beforehand). Scatter objects including a couch cushion, a pool noodle, a Hula Hoop, a colorful plastic storage bin, a blanket, or a stability ball. Then show your baby how to crawl, walk, wiggle, or work her way over, under, or around them. Let her explore color and texture. This activity will help your child learn how to overcome obstacles (literally) and move her body to get to the finish line. Add or subtract obstacles based on your young one’s ability and/or stamina.
Game 4: Indoor Basketball
A DIY game of hoops that you and your child can play while he sits in his high chair (pulled toward the kitchen table) is a great way to boost coordination. Make it super fun: set out one or two extra-large, unbreakable cups, and show your child how to toss a ball or favorite toy into them. (See-through cups let him monitor his progress; solid color cups boost the where-did-it-go factor.) Move cups closer or farther back to increase or decrease the challenge. If a cup is too hard for your toddler, use a bowl or colander instead.
Game 5: Bubblemania
Here’s a fast way to turn dishwashing liquid and water into an incentive for aerobic activity. In a park, backyard, or open area, blow bubbles and encourage your toddler to reach for or catch them. Wave the wand to get her popping as many bubbles as she can. Stuck indoors? What kid doesn’t love the sound (and feel) of bubble wrap popping? Place a three-to-six-foot strip of bubble wrap on a firm, flat surface, and let your toddler touch, crawl, or walk on it. Running and jumping boosts muscle strength; the pop is an instant self-esteem booster. And you don’t have to wait until the next time you purchase a delicate item to get bubble wrap. Buy it online or at your local post office, and stow it away until the next time you play Bubblemania together. And remember to keep the bubble wrap out of reach after playtime for safety reasons.