Let's face it -- toddlers do not have the best balance or coordination. They can trip when they run, fall all over toys when they play and may have difficulty climbing on top of things at the playground. However, taking part in certain balance and muscle-strengthening activities can improve a toddler's overall gross motor skills. Gross motor skills involve the major muscles groups in the arms, legs, abdomen and back, and relate to how well a child can maneuver and balance with his body.
Climbing exercises, like climbing stairs, build muscles in the entire body and help toddlers and preschoolers improve balance. The first few months that your 3-year-old climbs stairs you will notice that she climbs them by placing both feet on the same stair before moving on to another step. You may need to hold on to her hand while climbing the stair if you notice that she wants to start crawling up instead of walking up. Once her leg muscle strength builds and her gross motor skills improve, she will begin to climb the stairs with alternating feet.
Jumping strengthens the legs, back and abdomen. Clear an area in your living room for you and your 3-year-old to act like different jumping animals, which will help build muscles in his body and improve his balance. For example, hop across the living room like bunnies or kangaroos. Show your toddler how to jump on one leg, or alternate back and forth between two legs. You could even set up small toys on the floor to jump over as a hopping fun obstacle course.
Pushing a large object helps build muscles in the legs, arms and back. Bring out objects that your child can push around the house, such as large cardboard boxes, baby strollers or push toys. You could pretend to push boxes around the room like massive stone blocks, or push baby dolls in strollers when you both go to the park. Your 3-year-old could pretend to push a toy grocery cart while playing with her toy kitchen. If you make pushing objects exciting, she'll build gross motor skills without thinking that it is work.
You may not realize it, but your running toddler is actually strengthening his gross motor skills. Although your toddler might trip over his feet or stumble around at first when he tries to run, with practice he will look like he is ready to try out for a running club. Take your little tyke to the park and pretend that you are going to race him to a certain location, like the park bench or a tree. Don't really compete with your child; just let him think that you are going to race, to encourage him to keep running. Laugh and giggle while you run with your child so that he sees that running can be fun.
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