Physical learning games for your 1-2 year old

It may look just like child’s play but your toddler is hard at work mastering important physical skills as they gain balance, coordination and muscle control. A toddler’s natural desire to get moving and keep going will allow you to support them with plenty of activities while still staying focused on fun.

  • Your child will use lots of mental and physical energy learning to walk.
  • Soft shoes or bare feet are great during this phase as it allows your child to develop touch and balance.
  • A 1-2 year old child will learn how to roll and kick a ball (with varying degrees of success!).
  • Toddlers seem to love stairs and will try to walk up them with help. Next she will put both feet on one step before going to the next step.

Physical development is an area where toddlers show a huge range of abilities. All children are developing in their own unique pattern but by the age of 2 most toddlers have learnt to stand on their two feet, walk forwards and backward, jump run and climb. Keep in mind that your toddler will still have troubles turning and stopping so don’t let him run too far from supervision.

Physical development includes outdoor play but it is more than just running, kicking and throwing. As parents look for games which encourage a range of movements and help build strength, coordination and balance.

Regular and short games

Many parents who work worry they do not have enough time to play with their toddlers. A lack of time or equipment can leave parents feeling as if their child is missing out. Play doesn’t need to involve expensive equipment and physical development can be incorporated into many everyday tasks. Toddlers lose interest in activities quickly so keeping activities short but regular is perfect for toddler development.

Physical learning around the house

Parents who live in apartments may be concerned about their child’s access to space for physical development. Trips to the local park are important but by being creative the home environment can be equally stimulating. While hanging the washing, grab the washing basket and some socks. Take turns with your child putting the items into the basket and pulling them back out. While hanging the washing put 1-10 pegs on your child’s clothes and let them develop their finger strength by pinching the pegs to remove them. Toddlers of this age love to jump. Encourage this development. Rather than yelling for your child to not jump on your lounge remove the cushions and play a simple game of Leapfrog where they jump from one cushion to the next. For children who love to climb, pile the lounge cushions into a pile and encourage them to be ‘King of the Mountain” and to climb up and over the top. Households with stairs have inbuilt play equipment as children of this age master climbing up and down stairs.

Encouraging your child to move more

When we speak about physical development the term ‘Gross Motor’ is frequently used. This refers to the involvement of the large muscle groups in the body, mainly the arms and the legs. These are the muscles that busy toddlers naturally exercise.

  • Turn on the radio and dance with your toddler

Different kinds of music will encourage different movements. Dance with your child and see if they can imitate the movements you make. Try balancing and holding positions. Encourage your toddler to jump and clap to the rhythm of the music. Games such as Touch your Toes, Simon Says and the Hokey Pokey not only improve your toddler’s physical development but improve their listening skills for following instructions. Toddlers also love the actions to simple songs and music like the chicken dance or Ring a Ring a Rosie. Combine a love for pretend play with physical activity by pretending to be a racing car, a plane, a racehorse or even creating a pretend carwash while playing with your child.

  • Toddlers love to throw and kick balls

Try to find balls of different sizes and textures. For children who are wary of balls being thrown, blowing up balloons and tossing them with you in the living room may be a gentler introduction.

  • Toddlers are top heavy

Toddlers aged 1-2 years will learn to pick up objects as well as push and pull them without falling. However a toddler of this age has a higher centre of gravity due to a toddler’s legs not being in proportion to the length of their torso. This higher centre of gravity makes them more prone to falls. This is important when assessing whether an activity is suitable for your child.

A balancing act

As children gain control over their large muscle groups their balance will improve. Place a strip of masking tape on the floor and ask your toddler to walk along it without falling off. Encourage your child to play musical statues inside or play statues in the backyard. Your toddler will attempt to balance in different poses while looking at their shadow. Children will enjoy balancing on one leg.

Developing physical coordination

Toddlers love to bang things and the noisier the better! Pound and hammer toys are excellent at developing hand eye coordination for toddlers. Play dough develops both coordination and fine motor skills and drawing with crayons is a wonderful way of developing this skill. Kids usually love painting. Parents can vary painting by placing a sheet of paper on an easel, fridge door or wall. When the paper is vertical toddlers need to use more muscles in their arms for painting. Placing a car inside an empty glad wrap tube will amuse children. Hold it horizontally and tip it gently to let the car roll out. It may take a few turns till they get the hang of it.

Blocks are another toy for working on coordination. Toddlers love to build towers and then watch them fall. Blocks can also be used for lining up and having toddlers walk around like an obstacle course. Line the blocks up and let your child step over them or build a high tower and let them kick it down.

Toddlers are busy little people just looking for new adventures. Support your child’s natural curiosity and watch their physical development grow.

This article was written by Michelle Barrington for Kidspot


  1. dawnblyth 05/05/2019 at 11:59 pm

    We loved dancing together to music. Must do it more!

  2. SarahBlair 04/05/2019 at 11:14 pm

    Kids at this age are such a delight, everything that they do is a an opportunity for them to learn and develop and they suck it all up and absorb it like a sponge. This article was so fun to read, I could picture my kids doing all of these things while they were toddlers.

  3. Mands1980 27/04/2019 at 4:38 pm

    My kids have always loved music and dance it’s so simple but even now still love it. They always loved painting and play dough. Car painting by placing the car in paint and driving over paper is fun too. We had blocks they are so simple but there is so many things to do with them like stacking, and longing them up as the article suggests. This article reminds us of all the simple but fun things kids love to do.

  4. Shorrty4life1 15/04/2019 at 1:09 pm

    What an awesome article full of heaps of information. I love the one saying turn on your radio and dance together lol what child doesn’t love to have a wee boggie.

  5. Bevik1971 11/04/2019 at 3:31 pm

    My hubby was stay at home Dad to our daughter when she was a toddler and he was always playing silly games and had music on a lot so they would dance together 🙂 Now she is 6 and they still dance around like silly billies hehe 🙂

  6. Micht 11/04/2019 at 1:40 pm

    What a beautiful article. Guilty parents need to know that they can still give quality time even when they cannot give quantity. This is such a burden for these parents and its so nice to be able to encourage them that even a small gesture means they can teach and learn with their babies and bond with them still .

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