Headed to the park soon? Here are some playground skills for toddlers! Your little one can practice these while on their next park adventure.
These ideas are from a pediatric physical therapist to get creative with movement at your next visit to the park.
As always, these are suggested as fun activities and require one on one focus from a parent or caregiver with intermittent to consistent hands-on/direct help in some situations – especially if your child is learning or exploring these items at the park for the first time.
Please be aware of potential hazards and use your best judgment for your specific child and your supervision capabilities. The park should be a fun but also a safe place to play and use as an outlet for your little one’s energy!
Here are my favorite activities to increase strength and coordination for your littles.
Stairs are such a great way to practice overall strength and coordination for your toddler who is walking independently.
They are also a chance to work on balance and safe use of a handrail or wall. If your little one is crawling and interested, stairs at a park may not be the best option but the stairs at your homework too (with direct supervision).
Kids of all ages can enjoy the benefits of a slide with some modifications to keep them safe. For toddlers who are walking independently over dynamic surfaces like grass, bark, or gravel, seated with legs straight and sitting upright is the best position.
If the slide is short enough you can keep a close watch and walk alongside them then squat to meet them at the bottom.
Equipment: Swing Set
Infant Bucket Swing: once your baby can sit on their own for minutes at a time and reach their arms up for a toy they may be ready for direct supervision while using the infant bucket swing.
For babies who are ready, the swing is an amazing way to build trunk strength and help them with early balance skills.
Airplane Swing Game: instead of the traditional swing while sitting on their bottom, swinging with their belly on the seat offers a few different benefits:
Body awareness/Coordination: our balance (vestibular) system tells us where we are in space and being in a different position on the swing can help develop another level of awareness for kids.
General Strength: while on their belly kids can “drive the airplane” and lift their legs or arms then turn their body which helps them build strength.
Equipment: Climbing Wall
One of my favorite playground skills is to help kids when they’re ready because they feel so accomplished when they reach the top!
The climbing wall or net at the park seems unsafe but if you’re able to directly help them with where their legs and hands go then they will have a blast.
Kids are able to build core, shoulder, and hip strength while practicing coordination because each movement is important – kids don’t want to fall just as much as you don’t want them to as a parent!
Toddler Skill Area: Natural Obstacles
Sandpits, dirt paths, grassy fields still count as part of “playground skills”:
Once your toddler is walking independently or starting to run, natural obstacles are just as exhausting as the bigger pieces of play equipment. If you’re more comfortable with exploring nature then you will give your little one the chance to build their endurance – long stretches of walking and getting up when they lose their balance are excellent skills!
Key: supportive yet flexible soles with a wide toe box (LINK ten little)
Infants can develop their playground skills too!
The best way for infants to take advantage of park playtime is easy: bring a blanket and a couple of rattles, simple toys.
Using a blanket and a grassy area is amazing for encouraging responding to the breeze, different textures like grass/dirt and open areas for older preschool-age children allow for use of scooters, ride-on toys or to practice ball skills.
Use the environment to your advantage: infants are soaking up so much about their surroundings like the sounds around them, the light, the shadows, the texture of the grass, and all you need is a safe, shady area for tummy time and sitting skills.
Use simple toys: to mix up, use a rattle or simple toy and continue to engage with your baby – get on their level and soak up their sweetness.
The park is the perfect place to practice these playground skills while still having a great time! Let us know if you try any of the skills suggested and what your toddler thought of them!
Kelsey Daniels is a mama of two, wife, and physical therapist who works with pregnant/postpartum mamas and babies in their homes. She loves to share information that supports parents in the early years and especially supports mama’s as they navigate self-advocacy. After their first baby, Kelsey and her husband realized they wanted to try out the desert life and moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Las Vegas valley. Kelsey and her family are always in search of adventure but also value relaxing time at home. A passion for her family, movement opportunities for all as a physical therapist, and easy beauty hacks helped shape her blog as it looks today.