By Raising Children Network
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Toddler and mum pushing a toy pram
Toddlers can move around independently, but they still have to learn when and how to stop. Here are some play ideas to help you create a fun and safe environment for your toddler to explore.

Daily movement for toddlers: why it’s important

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

Daily movement helps him build muscles and practise physical skills. His self-confidence and self-esteem also grow as he climbs higher, runs faster and jumps further.

Australian guidelines say that toddlers should be active for at least three hours every day. This doesn’t mean going at full speed for three hours though. Being active can range from quiet play – for example, building with blocks on the floor – to running and jumping.

What to expect: toddlers and movement

Your toddler will probably:

  • rapidly develop hand and finger skills at 1-2 years of age
  • start preferring her left or right hand, although this preference might not be fully settled for several more years
  • be able to turn doorknobs at 2-3 years
  • be able to walk up and down stairs using alternate feet at 2-3 years
  • be able to hold a pencil in a basic writing position at 2-3 years
  • be able to screw and unscrew jars and lids at 2½-3 years
  • be able to run easily by around three years
  • start to dress and undress independently 
  • be able to eat independently with a spoon and fork, and drink from a cup
  • be managing toilet training by three years.

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

As your toddler heads towards being a three-year-old, coordination increases, and your child develops more physical control. This is a time of constant movement – running, jumping, climbing and kicking. Walking is now the heel-to-toes grown-up style, rather than the legs-apart style of a new walker.

Your toddler will enjoy using you and other familiar grown-ups as a play gym at this age, especially if you get down on the floor and play together.

Play ideas to get your toddler moving

Toddlers, play, movement and learning all go together. Here are some play ideas to get your toddler moving and learning at the same time:

  • Try push-and-pull toys from eight months.
  • Listen to any music that gives your toddler the opportunity to try moving to the beat.
  • Sing simple songs and rhymes that let your toddler copy actions.
  • Try ride-on toys from 12 months.
  • Let your toddler use playground equipment from 12 months.
  • Give your toddler different-sized containers to help him practise fine motor skills by putting small containers into larger ones.
  • Do puzzles and large Lego together.
  • Roll, toss and kick soft balls to each other.
  • Go for outdoor play in parks, backyards, at the beach – anywhere that your toddler can safely toddle, run and explore – to practise motor skills.

Try to limit your toddler’s screen time. Screens include television, computers, tablets and other electronic games and devices. Children aged 2-5 years should have no more one hour of screen time a day.

It’s also worth thinking about how much time your toddler spends in a car seat, pram or stroller each day. Toddlers should be inactive for no more than one hour at a time. Your toddler will probably let you know that an hour of being made to sit still is more than enough!

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.
  • Last updated or reviewed 04-08-2014