6 toddler games to boost motor skills

It's not about driving - motor skills are what your toddler needs to develop muscle tone, movement, agility, coordination and even pen skills later on

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1 Bongo boogie

If you don’t have a toy drum or a tambourine lying around, you can use an upturned cardboard box or even a saucepan lid instead.

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Start by tapping out a slow beat, counting one, two, three, four, as you go. Ask your toddler to walk around the room stepping in time to the beat as you count. Try counting to four and when he’s taken four steps, shout stop! And hold up your hand to indicate stop. Now repeat, getting him to do different actions to the beat such as swinging his arms, clapping his hands and swaying or dancing.

Skills your toddler will learn

Listening – which is a very important skill – is crucial in this game. Watch how much your toddler’s ability to respond to the beat improves throughout the game. This is also great for gross motor skills, and it’s particularly good for gaining control of the muscles in the legs and arms.

2 Big cook and little cook

Every toddler loves to play chef so why not indulge your little one’s imagination and set up your own pretend kitchen with some old pots, pans and wooden spoons.

When pretending to be grown-up cooks children love nothing more than playing with bits of real food. A small round breakfast cereal such as Cheerios is ideal for this game. Pour some of the cereal into three separate pans. Make sure your toddler gives each of them a good mix with a wooden spoon.

Now tip imaginary ingredients into the pans from any bowls or pretend food cartons you have to hand. Add tiny sprinklings of some and giant handfuls of others. When you both think the dishes are ready, give them a try. Your toddler will love watching you make funny faces as you act out different tastes like hot, bitter and sweet – so encourage him to copy you. You can even keep adding more ingredients until they all taste “just right”.

Skills your toddler will learn

This game is great for challenging your toddler’s fine motor skills – which involve small actions like picking things up between the thumb and forefinger and using the smaller muscles in the tongue and lips to taste and explore objects like food.

3 Something red, something blue

This game involves sorting items from around the house into different piles. So grab a large bag and fill it with things in three bright, easily recognisable colours, such as socks, books, toys and balls. Red, blue and yellow are good contrasting colours.

When your bag is full, sit down together and one at a time, pull out items in the three different colours, saying the name of the colour very clearly as you do and then popping it on one of three coloured piles. Repeat this a few times and when you’ve started three distinct piles encourage your child to have a go and find the right coloured pile.

Skills your toddler will learn

This is particularly good for encouraging good visual motor skills, which require co-ordination between what your toddler sees and does with her hands. This game also helps widen her vocabulary by learning about colours and various objects from her environment.

4 Body parts

Head, shoulders, knees and toes is always popular with toddlers because it has them jumping up and down. It’s also a great way to teach your child how to pronounce the names of the different body parts.

Start off by naming all the body parts in the song and ask your child to touch her head, then mummy’s head, their shoulders then mummy’s shoulders and so on. Then stand up and sing the song through a few times, encouraging her to do the actions.

Speed up towards the end and your toddler will think it’s hilarious – especially when you finish it off with a good tickle.

Skills your toddler will learn

This is great for gross motor skills – that is actions involving the larger muscles of the arms and legs – by creating bigger movements like bending the arm to touch the elbow. Because it involves bending down and standing up tall, it also develops balance and strength.

5 Find the teddy

Sometimes it’s fun to play hide and seek with a toy or object because you get to join in. Take your child’s favourite teddy or doll and tell her that you’re going to hide it.

Pretend that you have no idea where the teddy is and crawl around the room, calling out, ‘Teddy, teddy where are you?’ as you go. Alternate your speed as you peer behind the sofas and chairs until you he finally gets found.

Skills your toddler will learn

Even though not all children learn to crawl, moving around on hands and knees is an important gross motor skill that aids with good balance and even sporting ability later on in life. For even more of a challenge, encourage crawling on one hand and one knee, and then the other. This stimulates both halves of the brain and can be great fun to practise.

6 Cut and create

Not that your toddler needs an excuse to get messy but this game will give him a chance not only to get his hands sticky, but also to create something of his own.

First, cover your table with old newspaper and get out some basic craft equipment such as glue, paper, child’s scissors and crayons. Next, gather some old magazines – they can be yours or ones with children’s characters in – and lay them out on the table so your toddler can see the pictures and point to any ones that he likes.

Help him to cut out the pictures (he won’t be able to do this by himself yet) and show him how to stick the images onto his piece of paper. Talk about the pictures and colours and encourage him to hold a crayon and decorate the picture with scribbles and swirls.

Skills your toddler will learn

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By using his thumb and forefinger to pick up the images and stick them down your child will really be using his fine motor skills during this game. He’ll also be starting to develop the crucial grapho motor skills – which involve learning how to pick up and hold a pen, while learning through speech about different colours, characters and shapes.

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