Physical play is important for your child's physical, mental and emotional development.

How to Help Children Who Have Limited Physical Play Opportunities

by Nadia Haris

Playing with your toddler is a meaningful way to interact with and teach him. Physical play, such as throwing a ball, playing tag or running a race, helps to keep you active and is essential for your toddler's healthy development and growth. It helps build coordination, body awareness and strength, as well as confidence, social interaction skills and emotional health. However, if you live in an apartment building or area with an unsafe outdoor play area, it can be difficult to find spaces to simply play together. If your toddler has a mental or physical disability or illness, he may not be able to play adequately. With creative games, you can give your toddler or preschooler the opportunity for active play.

Play games that encourage toddlers and preschool-age children to work and coordinate their upper bodies. Even if space is limited, several games are safe to play in smaller indoor spaces. Have three or more children sit in a circle and use a blanket or sheet to pass around a light ball without letting it fall from the blanket. The children will have to manipulate the blanket by moving their arms to pass the ball back and forth. This game can also be played with children who are unable to walk for any reason.

Encourage physical play that involves standing up, if possible. Young children who are in a wheelchair can play sitting down, but they should be encouraged to move about as much as possible. Choose games such as table tennis, racquetball or badminton, which can be played both indoors or outdoors. Use sports toys that are easy to handle for toddlers and young children.

Teach toddlers line dancing or other types of dances. Make a game of it by having the children move three or more parts of their body when the music is playing and then freeze when the music is turned off. If space is limited, have the children dance in one spot or within a hula hoop that is placed on the ground. Disabled or ill children should be encouraged to dance to the best of their ability.

Purchase a trampoline for your backyard. Toddlers will enjoy jumping and playing on it by themselves and with others. Supervise all children when they use it, and install a safety net around the trampoline to help prevent injuries.

Use technology to encourage physical play. Programs that translate movement to music or to an onscreen sport help to promote physical activity. These include music and race car games that require you to move your body to play. Most preschool-age children can play these games, which help teach fast reflexes, muscle coordination, balance and stamina, and can be played by one child or more at a time.


  • Monitor your toddler during physical activity to encourage him to play in a safe and healthy manner.
  • Choose games that include everyone, regardless of physical ability, whenever possible.
  • Limit video games and watching TV, as these solitary activities can prevent children from seeking physical play.
  • The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapy notes that children with disabilities may develop more passive personalities because they do not have the opportunity to learn from physical play. Physical play designed for these children can help improve their quality of life.


  • Use soft foam balls when playing with toddlers and preschoolers to help prevent injuries.
  • If your child has any level of disability or illness, including asthma or other respiratory illnesses, consult your doctor about what types of physical activities are safe for him.
  • Children who are disabled or ill may lack the confidence to play with other children. Allow your child to play by himself or with one friend only if he is uncomfortable. Introduce him to other social settings slowly and in a guided manner to prevent bullying or teasing.

About the Author

Nadia Haris is a registered radiation therapist who has been writing about nutrition for more than six years. She is completing her Master of Science in nutrition with a focus on the dietary needs of oncology patients.

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