It’s time to get outdoors. The National Association for Sports and Physical Education recommends that toddlers engage in at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity and 30 minutes of structured physical activity a day. What is structured activity? Think games, sports, art activities. Whether your child is a perpetual motion machine who needs to blow off some steam or one who needs a little encouragement to get up and move around, structured outdoor play is fantastic for toddlers. It focuses their attention, helps their large motor development and, ideally, makes them laugh.
Toddlers are probably too little to blow bubbles from a traditional bubble wand, but they’re not too young to chase the bubbles you blow. This activity is classic and usually results in lots of giggles. It’s effective for one-on-one play or entertaining a group. And while you can conceivably play with bubbles indoors, it’s much more fun outside, especially on a lightly breezy day. If your child insists on trying to make the bubbles and not just pop them, you can try holding the wand while they blow. Waving the wand back and forth in the air sometimes works, too. Or just invest in one of those motorized bubble guns.
Art doesn’t have to be stuck indoors, and outdoor play doesn’t have to be high-impact. If you have a driveway or convenient patch of sidewalk in front of your place, grab some sidewalk chalk and get scribbling. This works for fine motor development and for teaching colors, too. Don’t expect much more than scribbling at first. If coloring with chalk seems too sedate for your high-energy toddler, draw a series of overlapping circles in a row, let your toddler color them in, and then play a simple game of hopscotch.
Cool off on hot summer days with some outdoor water play. Fill squirt bottles — the kind you find at garden stores for misting houseplants, and put yourself and your child in swimsuits — or strip him down to diapers — and spritz away at each other, the plants, the family dog, and whatever other convenient target presents itself. Or break out the kiddie pool and toss in some bath toys. Another surprisingly fun water activity for toddlers is washing up. Get out a big rubber bin, fill it with water and dish soap and it’s doll and toy bath time. You can even give your child a sponge and a bucket of slightly sudsy water and let him help you wash the car.
Concoct a simple scavenger hunt with your toddler to keep her occupied and on the move during outdoor time. Have her find colors, shapes and textures in her environment — a blue flower, something shaped like a circle, something smooth, something rough, something big, something tiny. You can do this in your own yard, on the playground or during a long walk or hike. Decide in advance whether you’re just looking or if you’re collecting specimens to take home, in which case bring along a brown paper lunch bag or a small jar as well.
Your toddler might not be ready for organized sports classes, but he is probably eager to try out some early sports-related skills such as throwing and kicking. All it really takes is a ball and an enthusiastic kid. You can kick the ball back and forth, throw the ball so your child can practice catching, or catch and chase the ball that your toddler throws. Other alternatives include throwing bean bags at targets — you don’t need one of those old-fashioned bean bag boards, but if you happen to have or find one, by all means use it. Otherwise, make targets from old cans and boxes. Set up a basketball hoop just above your toddler’s head height. If you feel ambitious, set up an obstacle course for your child to kick the ball through. Use traffic cones, boxes or whatever else is handy.
Set up some portable music outside and have a dance party. Encourage your child to dress up for the occasion. Bring out some scarves to wave in the air. Or tie ribbons to her wrists to flutter in the breeze. Then boogie on down together. This activity is another one that’s extra fun with groups of children. It’s also seriously cute to watch.