In the beginning, you often feel like your baby is permanently attached to your hip. But that changes quickly. First, he crawls -- and then your little genius figures out how to grab onto the coffee table and hoist himself to a standing position. Once that happens, he's ready to walk -- and that's your cue to start helping him develop his locomotor skills, which are the basic ways to move and include walking, jumping, hopping, leaping and skipping.
Play “Follow the Leader” to practice various ways of walking. For starters, to help your little guy develop his balance, tape a line of masking tape on the floor -- and encourage him to follow you by walking the line. As your little one grows and balance is no longer an issue, encourage him to follow you around the house, mimicking your motions. Walk on your tiptoes or like a monkey with bent legs. Walk backwards or move like a robot. Walk slowly like you’re trudging through syrup. Put on marching music and lead your little band member around the living room. Pretty soon, you can lead him outside -- and kick it up to a run. You can "race" him to the nearest tree or play tag.
Demonstrate how you push off with both feet and land on both feet to jump. Narrate your movement. For example, you might say, “See how I bend my knees and push myself in the air, Sami? Now you try it.” Jump off steps and jump over objects. Once a child is 3 or 4 years old, she'll delight in jumping higher each time. Ask her how many times can she jump without stopping -- and count out loud as she jumps! This is a good time to introduce a jump rope.
Hop on two feet and then hop on one foot. Explain to your little one that you're pushing off with your toes. Feel like a rabbit yet? Tell him to give it a try. A child can typically hop on one foot when he's 3-years-old. Play hopscotch. Enlist the entire family and bunny hop down the street. So what if the neighbors think you went a little bonkers!
Set up an obstacle course in the backyard with some of his toys -- and turn it into a game of make-believe, something preschoolers love. Show your little one how to gallop: one foot leads and the other foot follows; the same foot leads until you decide to switch. Tell him you’re going to gallop like ponies around the obstacles. Call out to him to let him know what to do next by saying things like, “Watch out for the castle, Jimmy!” “Go around that tree!” When you're done, gallop through the course again, this time doing a sideways gallop.
Show your child how to skip. Talk about what you’re doing: stepping with knees high in the air and hopping. Because of the uneven movement, this locomotor skill is typically tough for children under age 4 to master. It takes lots of practice. If you’re hosting a play group, invite the children and their moms to join in a skipping relay race.
Leap into the air and over a small cardboard box. Explain to your little one what you're doing by saying, “See how I run, and then lift both my feet are off the ground when I leap over the box? Now you try it.” This might just inspire him to grab his Superman cape and imagine he’s leaping over tall buildings.
- Once the individual skills have been taught, play music and encourage free movement. How about Little Eva’s classic “The Loco-Motion?” Children move naturally, but they need lots of practice and guidance to get the hang of the locomotor skills.
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