Toddlers and Waddlers: Optimizing Energy for Gross Motor Development

Last updated: March 22, 2023, at 4:58 a.m. PT

Originally published: September 2, 2020, at 10:53 a.m. PT

toddlers and waddlers

Two- and three-year-olds are always ready to try new things, and and let’s face it: sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with their energy! When children this age can be active and move around, they will be happier and more involved. 
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are several physical milestones for this age range: 


  • Stands on tiptoe
  • Kicks a ball
  • Begins to run 
  • Walks up and down stairs while holding on
  • Climbs onto and down from furniture without help
  • Throws a ball overhand
  • Makes or copies straight lines and circles


  • Walks up and down stairs, one foot on each step
  • Runs easily
  • Climbs well
  • Pedals a tricycle (3-wheel bike)

By encouraging your toddlers to do the activities listed above, you can help not only improve their physical skills, but also develop their ability to relate to their environment, learn new words, and encourage planning (as they talk about what they’re doing). 
Below are some easy activities you can set up at home to work on agility, balance, and coordination. Modify these activities using whatever resources you have on-hand, and be sure to encourage them along the way for continued support:

Climbing Course

  • Use several large cushions or pillows to stack and create a climbing course. 
  • Say, “What a good climber you are!” or “You went all the way over there!”

Blanket Play

  • Start by lying down on a blanket and showing how to hold onto one end to wrap yourself as you roll; place the blanket over a table and crawl under it to make a fort; or use it as a parachute to shake. 
  • Say, “Look at the different ways we can move the blanket” or “You moved so quickly!”

Big Box Play

  • Push, climb, roll, tumble, or hide in a large box. 
  • Say, “Where are you hiding?” or “Tell me what you’re doing with the box.”

Kangaroo Hop

  • Use a small paper bag and belt or long piece of string to create a pouch. Tie the pouch to your child’s waist so that as they hop around, they can collect their favorite toys and treasures.
  • Say, “Hop, Hop! You are hopping like a kangaroo!”

Trees in the Wind

  • Pretend to be like a tree and stretch your arms out wide to move and flow in the wind. Movements can change as you pretend you’re in a big thunderstorm, snowstorm, autumn day, or quiet summer day. 
  • Say, “How does a tree move in the wind?” or “You are reaching so high!”

Walking on a Line

  • Use wide masking tape to make a long path on the floor to follow. Put in corners, curves, or even short loops.
  • Say, “Tell me how you’re using your arms for balancing” or “How are you staying on the line?” 

Big Step – Little Step

  • Use big steps that have youth reach and stretch, then take tiny heel-toe steps to practice balance. Be sure to talk to your child about the steps their taking!
  • Say, “What kind of step was that?” or “How are you moving so fast?”

Follow the Footsteps

  • Cut out 25-30 footprints with cardboard and make a path that your child can follow. Create a pattern that encourages different step sizes.
  • Say, “Where do you think the footsteps are going?” or “What caused the steps to be like this?”

Minis Sports

  • Soccer kicks and basketball shots can be made with different targets around the home. Have fun throwing and kicking the ball in different ways or from different directions. 
  • Say, “That ball went so far/high!” or “How can you get it back to me?” 

About AAP 

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 pediatricians committed to the optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.

Category: Sports Activity