Toddlers who aren’t sitting still show a good indication that they’re reaching the physical development stage. At this phase, they’re expected to develop their gross motor skills, which are any movement that involves large muscles such as the arms, legs, and torso.
Gross motor skills are categorised into three groups: locomotor activity (travelling movements like climbing for muscular development, balance, and coordination), non-locomotor activity (stationary movements like pushing and pulling for body balance, strength, and dexterity, and manipulative skills (movements that manipulate objects like throwing for grip, hand-eye coordination and dexterity).
Each toddler develops at their own pace, but there are toys that can help them develop and improve their gross motor skills fast. Check them out here.
Toddlers (1-2 years old) first dash across the house can be frantic and unbalanced. However, the wobbler their walks and the more veering runs they do, the more they’ll learn to even out their balance until they can be steady on their feet.
As parents, you can help them build their non-locomotor skills by improving their balance and coordination. Opt to use balance toys like the high-quality Kinderfeets Tiny Tot products, which can turn into a balance board, a step stool, a seesaw, a slide, a tunnel, and many more!
Balance toys don’t only promote balance and coordination. They also encourage good posture and nurture core strength, weight shifting, and bearing skills as the toddlers learn how to stand and adjust their feet.
For safety, opt for sturdy materials. Those made from thin plastic might break easily into sharp pieces and could hurt your toddler. Additionally, look for toys with non-slip rubber rims. These can provide additional safety, but only if you have smooth flooring at home.
After army crawling (i.e. when babies drag their stomachs while pulling themselves along with their arms and elbows), toddlers will develop their crawling skills. It’s one of the first motor skills seen in them. Some may neglect it for walking, but it’s still considered a gross motor skill helpful for their development as a child.
Crawl-through toys are the best toys to buy to promote crawling skills. Examples of these toys are tunnels or tents. They encourage four-point crawling (also called “hands and knees crawling”) to engage bilateral coordination across the toddlers’ bodies. These toys can also cultivate balance and weight shifting.
Apart from crawling, crawl-through toys can also help body awareness, coordination, and visual tracking. Crawling, in particular, can help improve toddlers’ problem-solving skills, such as realising how to move around and pick a toy they want from another area in the room. Overall, crawling isn’t only a significant gross motor skill but also a fine motor and sensory skill, which all foster brain development.
When picking crawling toys, check their noise level. Most of these toys are designed with sounds to catch babies’ or toddlers’ attention. Opt for musical toys with soothing sounds that are helpful for their brain development and motor skills. More importantly, ensure they’re non-toxic, lead-free, and sturdy.
Push-and-pull toys are perfect for toddlers who are still learning to walk. They can provide support and guide them as they walk. They can help them learn how to avoid obstacles. This will encourage them to be more coordinated as they get around.
Examples of push-and-pull toys are ride-on toys (or sturdy toys with wheels), such as a trolley with blocks. Besides motor planning and problem-solving, these toys can also improve their physical abilities, such as reciprocal leg movements, balance, and weight shifting (especially when moving in and out of the vehicle).
A toddler-sized wheelbarrow or plastic shopping trolley is ideal if they can already walk. If they have a good sense of balance, consider giving them an animal pull-toy to take for walks. Opt for those with toys that make noise and bob up and down as they drag them. These will help them practise keeping their balance, even when distracted.
If the push-and-pull toys come with cords, be sure that they are no longer than 22cm. The longer they are, the more likely they’ll form a loop and become a strangulation risk. They should also be at least 1.5mm thick to avoid cuts to toddlers. In addition, ensure there are no loose parts that they can swallow or hurt them.
Manipulative skills or role-play toys are another kind of toy that offers a well-rounded development experience. Examples of these toys are hand puppets and playsets (like kitchen playset, home supermarket set, craftsmen engineering tools play set, and cooking play set).
These toys don’t only help toddlers’ dexterity and fine motor skills, but also cognitive development as toddlers move in character and tell exciting and wild stories. When they engage in pretend play, they can develop early social skills.
Outdoor playsets are also recommended for toddlers who can already get around their feet. They can help set the scene for whatever the kids’ imagination can come up with. They’re also great for improving their movements, such as climbing faster and running.
In addition to outdoor playsets, throwing toys like cones, rings or hoops, and bean bags can also be ideal to improve toddlers’ throwing skills. They help with the development of fine and gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and balance skills.
Throwing can be frustrating for parents, but it’s another way for toddlers to express themselves. While it’s hard, look at it from their perspective and think about the developmentally appropriate benefits your toddler is gaining from doing so.
However, as mentioned, always ensure the toys are hazard-free. Avoid giving toddlers toys made from thin plastic and with metal parts. They should also be bigger than a choke tube (alternatively, an empty toilet paper tube) to prevent choking.
Toddlers must develop gross motor skills. They need them for their balance, strength, muscle endurance, and coordination. Helping them nurture these does not only promote physical literacy but also long-lasting health.
Bob Duncan is the lead writer and partner on ConversationsWithBianca.com. A passionate parent, he’s always excited to dive into the conversation about anything from parenting, food & drink, travel, to gifts & more!