Movement and play: toddlers

Movement and play: toddlers

Daily movement for toddlers: why it's important

Movement is important for your toddler's learning and overall health and wellbeing.

Play is one of the main ways that children learn and develop, so playing with your toddler each day helps her move about and strengthens her muscles and bones. As your toddler climbs higher, runs faster and jumps further her confidence in what she can do will grow.

Australian guidelines say that toddlers should be active for at least three hours every day - but this doesn't mean three hours of running around until your toddler is exhausted. Being active can include quiet play - for example, building with blocks on the floor - as well as walking, running, jumping and climbing on play equipment.

What to expect: toddlers and movement

At this age, your toddler will probably be able to:

  • pick up small pieces of food between his pointer finger and thumb
  • use both hands well but might prefer to use his left or right hand (choosing the left or right hand for writing and drawing won't happen for another few years)
  • hold a pencil in a basic writing position at 2-3 years
  • turn door knobs at 2-3 years
  • walk up and down stairs using alternate feet at 2-3 years - but he'll probably still need the support of a handrail or an adult's hand
  • throw a ball without falling over
  • screw and unscrew jars and lids at 2½-3 years.

As your toddler heads towards three years, you might see that she can't keep still - she's always running, jumping or kicking! She might even try to climb up and over you or other familiar grown-ups. Many toddlers also like rough-and-tumble play.

Walking is also now the heel-to-toes grown-up style, rather than the legs-apart style of a new walker.

Your toddler is becoming more coordinated and is better at doing simple things for himself. For example, toddlers can start dressing independently, eating independently with a spoon and fork, and drinking from a cup. By three years they can manage toilet training.

Your child will probably want to test physical limits, climbing as high and running as far as possible - small bumps and falls are common. This is a normal part of how children learn and develop.

Movement and play ideas for toddlers

Here are some play ideas to get your toddler moving in different ways:

  • Listen to music that gets your toddler moving to the beat. Add some simple props - like ribbons or homemade shakers - to encourage her to shake, sway or twirl. You can even sing simple songs and rhymes that let your toddler copy actions.
  • Try ride-on toys from 12 months.
  • Try scooters, balance bikes and tricycles from 2-3 years. You can try this even earlier if your toddler shows he's interested.
  • Give your toddler different-sized containers so she can put the small ones into larger ones - this helps her practise fine motor skills.
  • Do puzzles and Duplo together.
  • Go for outdoor play in parks or backyards or at the beach. Anywhere that your toddler can safely toddle, run and explore gives him the chance to practise gross motor skills.
  • Let your toddler use playground equipment. It's a good idea to supervise your child to help her avoid injury.

Obstacles to toddler movement

Things like too much screen time or time sitting in car seats can stop toddlers from getting the benefits of daily movement and play. It's best to limit any activities that keep your child still for long periods of time.

If your child isn't running smoothly by three years, or shows little interest in exploring actively, it's a good idea to talk with your child and family health nurse or GP.