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How to Nurture Your Toddler's Physical Development


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The toddler years are packed with change, growth and energy. Parents of toddlers know life can be hectic, but channeling that energy can be a great way to build healthy habits.

As many as one in five toddlers are already overweight or obese, according to the Institute of Medicine. Caregivers are more likely to overlook excess weight or to expect children to slim down with age. But excess weight at a young age “can hinder movement and normal levels of activity,” according to the institute.

Caregivers and loved ones have the power to incorporate activity into daily life, even for little ones.

Make time to get active

Family time and activity can go hand-in-hand, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Every family’s schedule is different and parents should figure out what works best in their home. Some families have days packed with activities and structure, so setting aside some time for free play could be beneficial. Others may need to be sure to plan for parent-led play if their time is more flexible.

As a parent, you are the model for fitness. Play with your toddler, and teach him or her that activity is part of everyday life. Keeping up with a toddler can be draining, so be sure to ask for help when you need it. The goal is to enjoy the time together.

Choose the right activities

This age group is learning the basics of gross motor skills, so don’t expect much when it comes to coordinated sports play. Toddlers are still learning movement basics, such as balance and tracking moving objects with their eyes.

Toddlers particularly enjoy play that involves running and climbing. But remember that your little one won't have the attention span of an older child. Activity can happen indoors or outside, but outdoor play allows him or her to explore and tumble in open spaces. Playing in a public area like a park is a good way for children to hone their social skills. To keep the experience positive, plan ahead to end playtime before your toddler is exhausted and on the brink of a meltdown.

Play doesn’t equate to screen time, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children, especially young ones, shouldn’t swap physical activity for time watching television or using smartphones and other digital devices. Many studies have linked television viewing and obesitySo flip off the TV and do something physically active together.

Think outside the box

Parents can introduce activity to their children’s days in small ways. For example, don’t rely on your toddler’s stroller. Your little one might be able to walk for part of an outing to the mall, even if he or she tires out before you head home.

Activity time can be spread out, and toddlers in particular should be moving throughout the day. Have your child walk into daycare instead being carried, or sneak in 10 minutes of playing in the backyard before dinner. If your child participates in daycare, ask your childcare provider how often your toddler is active during the day and find out how you can support the childcare provider, especially when it comes to play.

Activity helps your toddler grow

Playtime helps your toddler grow physically, mentally and socially, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Play gives toddlers the chance to do more than have fun. Here are some ways that playtime helps your child grow:

  • Hone gross motor skills, like running and jumping.
  • Sharpen fine motor skills.
  • Improve coordination.
  • Practice making decisions.
  • Build confidence.
  • Explore creativity.
  • Develop a sense of security in his or her environment.
  • Practice social skills and work with others.
  • Connecting with family and loved ones in a meaningful way.
  • Follow directions.
  • Develop coping mechanisms.
  • Boost intelligence.

Explore and play in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City has plenty of great places to take busy toddlers. Here are five great spots to be active together:

Local libraries

The Metropolitan Library System offers a variety of programs for toddlers, such as parent/child playtime and active story times. Branches can be found across the Oklahoma City metro. The Pioneer Library System, which covers Norman and the surrounding area, also has active story times. Libraries often offer music performances, which are a great way to get toddlers moving.

Locations: throughout the metro
Cost: free
Hours: varies by location

Oklahoma City Zoo

The Oklahoma City Zoo has 119 acres to explore and 1,900 animals to see. The attraction also has several excellent playgrounds, including two areas for specifically for smaller children. For older toddlers, set a goal to walk one of the zoo’s walking trails.  One of the short ones, Flamingo Trail, loops through the Children’s Zoo. You’ll see flamingos, of course, but you’ll also pass macaws, spider monkeys, lorikeets and creepy underground creatures. You’ll go further if you take time to go down the slides or pet the Nigerian dwarf goats, which you will certainly want to do!

Location: 2000 Remington Place in Oklahoma City.
Cost: $8 for adults, $5 for ages 3 to 11 and free for age 2 and younger. Annual memberships are available.
Hours: 9 a.m to 5 p.m. daily.

Science Museum Oklahoma

Exhibits are changing and improving all the time at Science Museum Oklahoma, and there are plenty of fun spots for toddlers to explore and play. The CurioCity exhibit is an incredible collection of activities. The Odd-A-See Tower even has a padded play area for the smallest scientists to climb and roll. Another good spot is the Kid Space and Family Space area, which is designed for little ones to climb, ride and touch.

Location: 2100 NE 52 in Oklahoma City.
Cost: $14.95 for adults, $12.95 for ages 3 to 12 and free for age 2 and younger. Annual memberships are available.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

The YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City

Though toddlers aren’t quite ready to be competitive athletes, introducing them to team sports is a great way to get them moving, following directions and playing with others. The YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City offers several sports for young children, including soccer, basketball and tee-ball for 3- and 4-year-old kids.

Many Y branches in central Oklahoma offer parent-child swim classes, which help babies and toddlers feel comfortable in the water while playing with their parents. Also, more formal preschool swim lessons begin at age 3. If you’re looking for a fun place to swim, eight Y locations have pools. A great pool is at Mitch Park. The pool has a giant slide, a lazy river and a fun splash pad area for little ones. Life jackets are available, or you can bring your own.

Locations: throughout the Oklahoma City metro, from Chickasha to Guthrie.
Cost: Monthly memberships are $9.75 for youth, $19.50 for teens, $38.75 for adults and $58.25 for families. Financial assistance is available. Children don’t have to be Y members to play team sports, but registration is free or discounted for members.
Hours: varies by location.

Martin Nature Park

The park covers 144 acres of woods and grassland in northwest Oklahoma City. Little ones will love the playground, which has plenty of places to climb and see. The wide trails leave plenty of room for exploration, and a shallow creek running through the park is is a great place to wade during warmer months. You can also join up with more structured group activities, like the Nature Play Group. Special events are always happening, and guided nature hikes happen often.

Location: 5000 W Memorial Road.
Cost: free. Some programs have a small fee, usually about $2.
Hours: 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 1 through Sept. 30 and 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 1 through March 31. The Nature Center hours vary by day and season.

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