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Best Toddler Toys to Improve Gross Motor Skills
Updated on
October 31, 2023

Best Toddler Toys to Improve Gross Motor Skills

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Best Toddler Toys to Improve Gross Motor Skills

Does it feel like your toddler is always on the move? You’re not imagining things–the toddler years are where it’s at when it comes to physical development.

So, what are gross motor skills? First 5 California defines gross motor skills as “foundational skills that involve bigger movements using large muscle groups—arms, legs, feet, and trunks—to move the body.” This includes movement like walking, running, climbing, jumping, pedaling, kicking and more. And although this means your little one is becoming harder and harder to keep up with, this increased physical activity is completely normal and an important part of your toddler’s development.

Each child develops at their own unique pace but there are some things parents can do to encourage motor skills development. “I think exposing your child to as many sensory and motor experiences as possible will help them develop a clear connection between their brain and their body, which will set them up for success,” says Katie Zelinski, an occupational therapist and founder of The Well Balanced OT.

Adding a few toys to your collection that encourage physical development (and help to keep the climbing to the playground rather than your kitchen counters) can go a long way in helping your little one boost the motor skills they need as they grow and develop. “Kids learn through play. It’s what motivates and excites them. There are many toys out there that can facilitate fine and gross motor development,” says Zelinski. It’s also important—albeit nerve-wracking—to allow your toddler the freedom to explore, move their body and test their skills (including falling and getting back up!) in a safe environment with adult supervision. “With each bruised knee, the child is figuring out the best way to move their body and navigate their environment. It gives their body feedback and teaches them to adjust next time,” Zelinski says.

How else can you support your child’s gross motor skills development? “Modeling! Kids are always watching the people in their world, both adults and peers, and attempting to copy them,” says Zelinski. Offer as many opportunities for them to practice fine and gross motor skills and toys are a great way to facilitate that learning.

Gross Motor Skills in the Toddler Years

Here are toddler gross motor skill milestones according to the CDC:

12 months:

  • Pulls to stand and walks holding furniture (often called cruising)
  • Begins taking steps
  • May stand alone

18 months:

  • Walks alone; may walk up steps and run
  • Pulls toys when walking
  • Can help undress themself

2 years:

  • Stands on tiptoe
  • Kicks a ball
  • Runs
  • Climbs onto and down from furniture and walks up and down stairs
  • Throws ball overhand

3 years:

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

Commonly Asked Questions about Gross Motor Skills Development

Why is it so important for babies and toddlers to meet motor milestones according to the timeline laid out?

Motor skills milestones build on each other. “For example, between 4-6 months, a child should master rolling,” says Zelinski. “This skill helps improve vestibular processing, body awareness, trunk control, and bilateral coordination, “[which] helps set them up to be able to start to sit independently and reach for items to play.”

What should parents do if their child seems to be missing gross motor milestones?

There is a range when it comes to child development, so you shouldn’t compare your child to other children. But trust your gut. “If you do have concerns about delays and they are approaching the end range of development norms, talk to your pediatrician,” Zelinski says. “The new CDC guidelines are an attempt to dismantle the ‘wait and see’ approach, which sometimes leads to children not getting the support they need until they are closer to 2.5-3 years old. Research shows that the earlier the child receives services, the better the outcome will be.”

Here are Babylist’s Best Toddler Toys to Improve Gross Motor Skills.

A Jumping Toy

Toddlers love jumping, but parents don’t always love the idea of a trampoline due to safety concerns. This mini version is a nice compromise. It has a built-in handle for extra stability so your little one can hang on while they bounce. And even though the surface is more than large enough for a toddler to freely jump around on, the trampoline itself has a relatively small footprint and fits nicely in the corner of a playroom or in a finished basement. Just keep in mind: it’s for indoor use only.

A Toy to Spark Imagination

Is the Nugget a piece of cool, modern furniture? Is it a fort? Is it a pirate ship? We’re not sure…and that’s exactly the point. This kid-sized modular couch is anything your toddler wants it to be, and kids love to do just about anything but actually sit on it. It’s great for climbing on, jumping off, walking across or whatever else your little one wants. They’ll build gross motor skills (and confidence) and have a ton of fun while they do it. They may even decide to sit down on it someday…but maybe not.

A Crawling Toy

Crawling is a gross motor skill that’s beneficial for toddlers long after they’ve mastered it and moved onto walking. This crawl-through tunnel is the ultimate toy to break out on a rainy day. It collapses and stores completely flat, so it’s perfect for small spaces or for tossing under a chair or the couch until you’re ready to play. It’s also made from wipe-clean materials so you can play indoors or out.

A Balancing Toy

You’ll start to notice your toddler making big strides in balance as they begin to master walking (and running!). These “stepping stones” are a fun, creative way for little ones to build balance and coordination—two important gross motor skills. The bottoms are lined with a non-slip rubber rim so they’ll stay put on smooth surfaces, and each stone varies in steepness for added difficulty. They’re also great for encouraging open-ended play.

A Scooter

A scooter is one of the best toys for building and improving gross motor skills—and the Micro Kickboard is one of our absolute favorites. Its three-wheel design and lean-to-steer capability makes it stable enough that even younger toddlers get the hang of it easily. This model features an adjustable handlebar and a high weight limit so it can grow along with your little one. Just don’t forget a helmet!

A Pull Along Toy

Adding a pull toy to your collection makes it easy for your toddler to engage in active play indoors. This adorable wooden giraffe is just right for new walkers. It features wide, stable wheels and a long string so your toddler will be able to easily push and pull it along.

A Bouncing Toy

The Rody horse was created over 30 years ago and toddlers haven’t stopped bouncing on it since. Its unique design and rounded shape create just the right seating area for little ones to climb on and bounce safely. Riding Rody will help your toddler build muscle and improve gross motor skills overall—plus, its cool design looks pretty awesome in any play space.

A Classic Climber

Popular among the Montessori crowd, these simple wooden climbers offer your toddler a chance to practice balance and coordination. They also help your little one build self-confidence as they learn to climb up and eventually over the triangle. They fold up for easy storage and many come in sets with a little double-sided ramp for sliding and more climbing options. It’s a good idea to place it over a padded playmat so your tot has somewhere soft to land.

A Climbing Toy

We’ll get this point out of the way now—this climber isn’t that fun to put together. But we promise it’s worth the work!

A dome climber checks all the boxes when we think about the characteristics that make up an ideal toy. It encourages active play; it builds lots of skills (especially gross motor); it’s completely open-ended; and it’s great for toddlers and kids of multiple ages. This one is made from powder-coated steel that’s weather and rust-resistant and works for children ages three to 10. It’s a smart addition to any backyard space.

A Toy for Open-Ended Play

It’s often the simplest toys that have the most benefits, and that’s definitely the case with the Bilibo. Its unique design and quirky shape make it a magnet for toddler curiosity, and your little one will find an endless number of ways to play with it. There’s a ton of gross-motor-skill-building uses like climbing in and out, spinning and jumping on and off this one-of-a-kind toy. It even works for outdoor fun.

A Ride-On Toy

The Cozy Coupe has been an iconic toddler toy for 40 years and counting. It’s a fun, easy way for your toddler to improve their gross motor skills, too. Ride on toys require the coordination and balance, and work many of the larger muscles in the body. And toddlers love pushing and steering this car around with their legs. This version has a removable floorboard that protects the feet of younger toddlers who aren’t quite ready to push the car on their own.

Surfs Up

Learning should be fun! Let their imagination run wild while building important gross motor skills with this simple, open-ended Montessori balance board. It can be used to balance and rock or turn it upside-down and you have a bridge or slide.

An Outdoor Toy

You don’t need fancy or complicated toys to help with your toddler’s gross motor development; sometimes the basics are just right. This outdoor game set includes three classics: rings, bean bags and cones. Everything can be used together or separately for various games and challenges, and they’re all great for improving your little one’s gross motor skills.

EXPERT SOURCE

Katie Zelinski, Occupational Therapist and founder of The Well Balanced OT. Her career has focused on working in pediatrics in early intervention, schools, and outpatient clinics. She currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio.


Briana Engelbrecht

Assistant Editor

Briana Engelbrecht is Babylist’s Assistant Editor, where she brings her passion for early childhood development and the perinatal period, plus experience as a mom of two to Babylist articles and guides. A former preschool teacher, she loves children’s picture books, cats, plants and making things.

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