We’ve all seen our toddler chasing a balloon around or trying to climb out of their highchair when mealtime gets boring. It’s staggering to think of the things they can do now that a few short months ago would have been impossible.

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That’s thanks to a range of abilities that development experts call ‘gross motor skills’. That sounds pretty technical, but what it boils down to is a child’s ability to move their whole body, whether to play or to travel. From the age of about 12 months, kids are learning about how the different parts of their bodies work together, becoming more confident and agile as they gain in strength.

Why developing gross motor skills is important

This is an important time for our toddlers. Developing gross motor skills helps children join in with games and assess risks and dangers, while also laying the foundations for their fine motor skills (things like holding a crayon or zipping up a jacket).

Think of the always-on-the go toddler years as the training children need to hone these skills. You see your favourite house plant being pulled to the floor; they see an elite athlete in training to join the big kids. Most everyday activities – crawling, toddling and climbing – will help young children with their gross motor skills, but there are simple ways parents can encourage development.

Outdoor play indoors

The Pikler Style Wooden Climbing Triangle

Outdoors, there’s space to toddle and run. In the park, little ones will head straight for the play equipment that excites and challenges them. This gives them the chance to jump, climb, crawl, balance and swing in a safe environment. But being outside isn’t the only way toddlers can improve their gross motor skills. Well-chosen play equipment can be used inside to aid their development.

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The Pikler Style Active-Tots Wooden Climbing Triangle from TP Toys is a good example. It encourages toddlers to climb, one rung at a time and over the top for an extra adventure. It has anti-slip rubber feet, so it’s not going to slide around – letting the child become more self-assured as they build crucial strength and agility skills – and it folds for easy storage afterwards.

Theviya, mum of a 19-month-old toddler, says her son has grown in confidence since using the Climbing Triangle: “He built up his strength climbing up and down the frame and his climbing skills have significantly improved.”

My son kept showing us his progress in climbing and was so giggly
– Theviya, mum to a 19-month-old toddler

Following the Pikler philosophy of natural learning

The TP Active-Tots range was designed around the findings of Hungarian paediatrician and infant educator Emmi Pikler, who advocated a natural approach to motor skills development through giving children the freedom to move and play as they want to. She was the first to develop a piece of triangular play equipment to allow a child to explore how they can climb up and over, building strength while learning about how their body works. Pikler believed that, given the right opportunities, children can learn to move “skilfully, simply, securely, naturally”.

A growing world of imagination

The Active-Tots range really speaks to Emmi Pikler’s philosophy that infants should have the freedom and opportunity to move according to their own ability. The modular range helps advance and encourage motor skills, strength, agility, and movement from just 12 months old and each piece can be used with any other in the range, for a truly expandable play system. So, for example, you can add the Slide onto the Climbing Triangle or Cube, allowing your little one to climb up and slide down, or it can be used with both to create a bridge.

Wooden Climbing Bridge and Slide

The Wooden Climbing Bridge and Slide encourages crawling, climbing and imaginative play – link that up to the Indoor Wooden Climbing Cube and you’ve got the perfect den.

Wooden Climb and Swing

The Wooden Climb and Swing lets older toddlers climb while a younger child of 6 months-plus can swing by their side.

And the Indoor Wooden Balance Board isn’t just an exercise in agility – when your toddler decides it’s actually a racetrack or a bridge it’s firing their imagination too! All the parts interconnect – the only limit is your toddler’s creativity. Finishing off the range, the Active-Tots foam play mats are pretty irresistible for little feet to charge around on.

Exciting indoor play that’s good for the outside

Wooden Climbing Triangle

By the time we’ve got a toddler, the legacy of that first year is way too many plastic toys. But Laura, mum to an 18-month-old boy, says the Wooden Climbing Triangle was a more attractive addition to her home. It’s made of FSC sustainable wood and folds easily for storage. “The quality of the materials is great,” Laura says. “It’s so easy to move about and the wood is lovely.”

When the Climbing Triangle arrived my son was so excited. He could see what was inside and was desperate to get on it
- Laura, mum to an 18-month-old toddler
Wooden Climbing Triangle

And Emily, mum to 18-month-old Ottie, said her daughter’s first reaction was “Wow!”. “She ran straight over and began to climb and play,” says Emily. “She keeps going back to it to have a climb or to hide underneath the structure like a tent. This will be amazing for imaginative play as she gets older!”

4 indoor play ideas to develop gross motor skills
  • Obstacle course – Nothing makes a toddler giggle like feeling like they’ve just won a race. Set up indoor play equipment like the Wooden Climbing Triangle, hula hoops and a mini slide for climbing, crawling, jumping and weaving. Their confidence will grow as their abilities improve with every round.
  • Balloon tennis – From tiny taps to giant lobs, let your toddler experiment to see the difference they can make to how the balloon travels. Watch their delight when they manage to bat it back to you.
  • Playing postman – Ask your toddler to pick a toy or object off the floor and ‘post’ it into a smaller space – this encourages bending, reaching and following specific instructions. The bars in the Wooden Climbing Triangle would work well in a game like this.
  • Balance like a gymnast – Test your toddler’s agility on a gymnastics ‘beam’. In reality this could be anything – a narrow area of floor you’ve marked off with toys or the Active-Tots Wooden Balance Board. The main thing is they manage to keep their feet on the ‘beam’ to score a perfect 10!

The TP Active-Tots range is available now

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Images: Getty Images/TP Active-Tots

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