Have you ever really watched your toddler or preschooler maneuver the playground, the stairs, the world? The smallest things to us… the curb, a slide… are much bigger from a child’s point of view. I am often amazed at how easily children accept these obstacles. The other day I was watching a 1 year old at play. The railroad tie surrounding the playground was a little higher than his knee. He bent his body, used his arms and legs, pushed and pulled until he was on the wood chip surface. It was not easy for him, it was worth the climb though, and he headed straight for the slide. The steps were thigh high. He mounted them, one-by-one until he was standing on the top of the 3 stair platform. He smiled, with a sense of accomplishment and then sat and slid, arms up in the air which makes everything more fun! At the bottom, he picked himself up and did it again. Ahhh – to be little again!
I mention my little friend so that we may put into perspective the daily challenges a child approaches. They have few expectations and are up for anything. It is a great way to view the world actually! I bet if the stairs to my house or yours were thigh high, it would take every ounce of strength to make it to the door and doing it 5 or 6 times in a row would never even cross our minds. Children between the ages of 12 – 36 months develop in so many ways, the least of which is physically. This is the time they increase muscle tone, begin muscle memory and gain coordination. Each of these physical attributes is essential to balance and fluidity in walking, endurance and even sitting up in one’s chair for table-top activities and eventually schoolwork.
The importance of outdoor play is immeasurable and should be encouraged. Climbing, skipping, jumping and running all provide children with core strength necessary to be successful. While most children do not need encouragement to play, it is often a little bit harder to actually provide the opportunity. As parents, we have to make time and provide these experiences often. If your child attends preschool, he/she likely has this gross motor need met the days he/she attends. On the other days, it is up to you! While the park is specially designed for this type of activity, you may not have one handy or the weather may not permit. In this case, you can have your child manage the stairs – this will promote endurance and build muscles in their little legs and core. They can jump in and out of a circle (use string or a band to create one), dance to slow music and fast music and climb in and over boxes, under and over chairs, place tape across the carpet to create an imaginary balance beam or tightrope to walk toe-to-toe, have them hop or jump over the line forwards and backwards. Each of these activities helps with balance, coordination and core strength in addition to being fun and allowing them to show off their abilities.
The more time spent being active – the more confident and competent your child will become. It’s true…. We can all benefit from a more active lifestyle!