Keeping Your Infant and Toddler Moving While You Shelter in Place

Shelter at home has caused us to temporarily modify the way we live our lives. For children, one of the biggest challenges is how to keep them active and keep them moving.  I’ve been reading email after email from families asking me questions such as:

  • How do I keep my children moving in our small apartment?

  • How do I maintain a level of physical activity for them?

  • What activities should they be doing for their age?

  • How can we encourage burning all that excess energy when we are so restricted?

I’ve been a physical therapist for over 20 years, mostly working with the pediatric population in New York City.  As I reflect on the current situation and my experience, I want to share some ideas and share some activities that can be done in a small space and encourage the development of age-appropriate gross motor skills.  In other words, let’s go over some games to keep our infants and toddlers moving.

First things first…What are gross motor movements?

They are movements involving the large muscles of the body such as arms, legs, and torso, that help us do things like crawl, walk, jump, kick, sit, throw, lift, and catch.  Gross motor skills are important because they allow us to explore and interact with our environment. Through movement we build confidence, cognition, social awareness, speech, fine motor skills, and overall health.  Pretty important, right?

Gross motor skills for infants (2 months to 1 year) include:

Rolling, laying on the belly (prone positioning), quadruped (on all fours) creeping, crawling, tall kneeling, sitting, pulling up to stand, and cruising.   The activities that can be done to encourage these moments are limitless and can be fun. They requiring very little space and a few toys or props:

  • Ring sitting or side sitting and working on stacking, turning pages, clapping, and playing peekaboo.

  • Crawling to reach a toy and reaching for objects

  • Crawling through a tunnel or over a cushion or even over your leg.

  • Cruising along furniture to reach a stuffed animal.

Gross motor skills for toddlers (1 year to 3 years) include:

Toddlers are working on the ability to stand, walk independently and ultimately climb the furniture.  Older toddlers begin to kick, catch, jump, and run. Activities to help toddlers develop these skills  may require a bit more space but can still be done in a New York sized apartment.

  • Some aides that can facilitate these activities are music, balloons, hula-hoops, streamers, masking tape, pillows, shaving cream, bubbles, and cotton balls, even feathers.

  • Making an obstacle course is a great way to engage a toddler to move. For example, you could challenge your toddler to walk on cushions or jump over a broomstick.

  • Balloons are also great for encouraging movement.  You can create games with balloons such as hockey or volleyball.

  • You can make a maze with streamers  where your toddler will have to walk over or under certain obstacles.  You can also make shapes on the floor with masking tape and work on jumping.

You can encourage all of these movements by offering them the opportunity to practice. Plan a time to do physical activities daily and you really don’t need that much space. As you can see the possibilities are endless. Be creative, make them challenging, offer encouragement, and most importantly keep them moving!