Kids can have fun while moving around, even in the middle of winter.
With the cold weather upon us, many parents are looking for indoor activities and toys for their children that will not only burn off some of their pent-up energy, but also help them succeed. As a physical therapist, I use and evaluate toys that improve a child’s strength, balance, coordination, and agility. These skills help children with a variety of school demands, such as sitting upright during long hours of learning, easing reading and homework with improved eye-hand coordination, and enabling their imaginations to flourish.
I find that putting two or three of these toys together as an obstacle course with different configurations can make the same toys more interesting. For example, one day you can place the tumbling mat for somersaults, then a balance beam as a bridge, with the ball pit on the end. On another day, incorporate the balance beam first, then the rocker board, and finally the walking stilts and the ball pit again at the end. Allow your children to imagine they are using different scenarios as they take pretend trips to the moon, picnics in the woods, running from a bear, or being in a circus, to add fun and excitement.
A tumbling mat: We Sell Mats Folding Exercise Gym Mats (ages 2-10)
This essential gets kids moving on the floor. They can begin with yoga stretches, somersaults, and eventually cartwheels and headstands. Print some large and easy yoga poses (for example, the poses shown here) and place them next to the mat for them to copy; even better, do it with them! Don’t forget some music to get a rhythm going.
Gonge Riverstones (ages 3-7)
Balance reactions, hip strength and visual perception are all used to maintain an upright position. Kids can have fun imagining bringing baskets of food to a needy lady waiting to feed her hungry children on the other side of the lake while avoiding sharks. Add pails or baskets in their hands for an added level of challenge!
Sit and Spin (ages 3 and up)
Variations of this toy allow for smaller and larger children, as well as a pricier model built for two. Its popularity is due to the fact that a child’s vestibular system allows them to spin without getting dizzy, unlike us adults. Watch in amazement as they spin without getting sick!
Alex Active Monkey Board (ages 3 and up)
This inexpensive toy comes with accolades from many happy parents, and its price cannot be beat! You can challenge children further by having them pop bubbles, play catch, or rock the board on all directions to music as they stand on the board. It’s perfect for combining with a tunnel, scooter, and pail stilts.
Just Jump It Set of 2 EZ Steppers Agility Toy (ages 3 and up)
This toy provides hours of fun by itself or with another sibling or friend. They usually need a reminder to pull up on the string before they move. Your job will be to adjust the string height so that it is right for your child. Give it a try yourself, and remember why you loved the old version of this classic so much.
Tunnels (ages 6 months to 5 years)
This tunnel has a mesh window so you can see the little ones as they go through. Put bean bags, couch cushions, and pillows to climb on before the entrance, and add a goal at the end, such as taking one puzzle piece through at a time. Involving a cognitive component to a motor activity increases focus.
Little Tikes 3′ Trampoline (ages 18 months – 6 years)
Trampolines are great for teaching how to jump by bouncing with knees bent, at first. Jumping improves ankle and hip strength and gives muscles input for body awareness. It is even more fun with jumping into a ball pit right afterward! So, start jumping down from a couch or stairs, then jump on the trampoline, walk on a balance beam and end with jumping into a ball pit.
Monkey Bars Climbing Tower (ages 3 to 6 Years)
Climbing promotes arm and leg coordination, and pretend play flourishes, as kids climb up to save a cat from a tree or climb a tall mountain. I love interactive toys that siblings can enjoy together, and this one fits the bill! Other parents recommend placing a ball pit underneath – that can be fun, just be sure it’s full enough to provide cushioning.
Although it is pricey, it may be worth buying this set for a few children or for them to chip in for it together. I like that this basic set is enough for many hours of play and that interest can be piqued again when you purchase add-ons. Other attachments include a cocoon swing, trapeze bar and disc swing.
Ball Pit: Click N’ Play Pack of 200 Crush Proof Plastic Ball – 6 Bright Colors (ages 2 and up)
Re-use your inflatable pool for some indoor fun! If you don’t mind the cleanup, this one never fails to excite and satisfy. Use any type of pool, pit or box and fill with these crush-proof balls.
Rena Lederer is a Physical Therapist and owner of WholeTeam Therapy in Lakewood, NJ, specializing in Pediatrics and Woman’s Health PT. She wakes up each day excited to help people live better and healthier lives. Rena enjoys the simple things in life and sharing tips on small changes that can make a real difference in busy women’s lives. Reach her at 732-534-6707 , online www.wholeteamtherapy.com, or via email at [email protected]. Whole Team Therapy is also available on Facebook @ WholeTeamTherapy or Instagram @WholeTeamTherapy.