The toddler years are the time to foster a love of physical activity that could stick with your child throughout her life. Try these ideas that will peak your toddler’s interest and limit her frustration.

 

Toddlers love to move. It’s how they learn to coordinate their motions and grow stronger. Toddlers don’t need to be taught to be active—most days, you’ll probably be the one who’s worn out from trying to keep up. But when you channel all this natural raw energy into activities that are age-appropriate and fun, you’ll help your child link movement to pleasure. And that can ignite a lifelong love of being active that will add to her health and joy.

Toddlers don’t need team sports or a jogging regimen to be active. Here are some ways you can run with their natural love of movement.

Join in for family fitness. Everything’s more fun when Mom or Dad takes part. Try starting an activity and then following your toddler’s lead. Does she want to do it more? Repeating things over and over is how a toddler learns, so be patient and keep at it. Is she expressing frustration or lack of interest? Move on to something else.

Be a plaything yourself. You are your toddler’s favorite kind of play. Toddlers love climbing on a parent’s back for a piggyback ride, gentle wrestling, or playing leapfrog with you, for example. Go ahead: Be a little silly and let the active fun flow. If you’re having fun, your child is probably having fun, too.

Think all-around play. Toddlers find it especially fun to climb, go down slides, run, and tumble—activities that use lots of different muscle groups. Playgrounds, especially those designed for younger children, and parent-child tumbling classes offer all these activities. If you can, organize an open area of your home where your child has space for physical play. Make an obstacle course out of pillows, cardboard boxes, and furniture.

Include lots of outside play. Ideally, make time to be outdoors every day. Almost any weather is fine for play if your child is dressed right. The change of scenery will be fun for you both, and there’s more space to run outside. Whether you’re at a park or playground or in your yard, keep close watch because toddlers’ judgment and sense of self-control lag behind their motor skills.

Beware of too much organized activity. Toddlers need to move when they feel like moving—not because it’s 9 A.M. on Tuesday and therefore time for gym class. And it’s too soon for team sports. Your child won’t have the physical skills or attention span to pay attention to directions until age 6 or 7. That’s not to say you won’t have fun at a mom-and-me-type movement class. Just don’t expect it to be the main source of exercise at this age.