As we turned the corner on the first year of my son’s life, I knew that I wanted to be there for every discovery, every boo-boo … every moment. Still, I missed my time as a care provider in daycare and preschool centres. So, with the infant days behind us, the timing seemed right for me to dive in and start my own home daycare, something I’ve always dreamed of doing.
In my care are two spunky toddlers and my own 1-year-old. And it’s been a joy to create a warm, open, and easygoing program, incorporating the best of what I’ve seen combined with my own mental wish list that I’ve been keeping over the years.
We schedule meals and naps, but otherwise we generally fly by the seat of our pants. But, there is one thing we always incorporate into every day: physical activity.
If you’re at home with a toddler (or have a caregiver who is) and wondering how to make sure your child is getting the suggested amount of daily physical activity and developing skills, I’m here to offer you my 5 best tips that you can try at home:
1. Make physical activity a fun but non-negotiable part of everyday
When taking a trip to the park or your local community centre, it’s easy enough to put your transportable toddler into a stroller and just go at your own pace. It can be hard to convince them that walking is the better option but hopefully they’ll just realize it’s the only option. If your toddler, like most, loves to make his or her own decisions, phrase it in such a way that they’ll ultimately end up choosing to walk. Questions like, “Do you want to wear your favourite blue shoes on the walk or your green shoes?” will give them the opportunity to make a decision and feel in control.
If your toddlers need a distraction or some excitement on the walk, sing some songs, or point out interesting signs, animals, or nature along the way. We love singing “Ants Go Marching” on our walks. Sometimes we will use silly voices to make it even more fun.
2. Choose developmentally appropriate playgrounds
Toddlers can be adventurous and curious, and with the right environment they can use their curiosity to learn many new things. I love to find parks in our area that have smaller, lower play structures and soft material on the ground. I can confidently let the children explore their environment without worrying about constantly telling them to stay off dangerous equipment, or stopping their fun. We love parks that have stairs to practice climbing, balance beams to work on balance, and open space to just be a toddler.
3. Dedicate time for free play
It’s wonderful to watch a young child’s eyes light up when they arrive at a playground. We all know how much children love to play and how much fun they have without any intervention or interference from adults. Keeping this in mind, I always make time for the kids to be kids in an outdoor environment. Without seeming like a neglectful childcare provider, I sit back and let them do their thing. These are the times when I often see the kids take a leap and learn a new skill. If they are working hard on something new, I will encourage them, but I won’t overstep my boundaries and help them unless they ask (even then, I will encourage them to try again while I stand beside them, as sometimes that helps them feel more comfortable).
4. Plan some structured activities to encourage movement
After some free play time, it’s good to change it up and bring in some structured activities for your little ones. If you aren’t sure what type of activities would work, check out AfL Resources and Lesson Plans for some ideas. Our favourites are “Animal Walk” and “Fill the Pool”. As a way to help make these activities toddler friendly, I try to keep them shorter than 20 minutes, as their little attention spans can sometimes be less engaged. Working on physical skills is important but it’s also important that your little one is engaged and seeing it as a positive experience. You can also select activities based on your toddlers’ ages.
5. Don’t let the weather forecast stop you from going outside everyday
The parents of the children in my care knew from day one that no matter what the weather is like, we will always explore the outdoors at least twice a day. With the right outdoor gear, rain or snow doesn’t have to deter you away from physical activity. What kid (or big kid in my case) doesn’t love jumping in puddles, throwing snowballs (safely, of course) or running through the mud? It can make for messy adventures but it’s rewarding to watch your little one develop new skills even in the wettest, dirtiest weather. And when Mother Nature makes it impossible (too cold or too humid) to go outside, check out some local indoor alternatives to ensure your little one is getting some physical activity into their day. Our favourite option is our local Ontario Early Years Centre where they have gross motor time once a week for toddlers. The best part is that it’s all free. Check out the website to see when your local centre runs something similar.
It may sound crazy to some, but I love spending the day with 3 energetic toddlers. I love seeing them learn and grow everyday. And having the opportunity to ensure physical activity is always part of their day is one of the best parts of the job.