Even if your toddler is more interested in walking than crawling, finding some opportunities to keep them on their hands and knees has benefits, says Rachel Coley, Lovevery’s pediatric occupational therapist. “A play tunnel is my favorite tool to encourage toddlers to keep moving on all fours,” she says. “They love squeezing themselves into tight spaces and working their way through.” When you add fun elements—obstacles, motion, balls—you can make a simple tunnel even more enticing.
Why is crawling important for toddlers?
You may have heard why crawling is so beneficial for babies, and those reasons remain just as relevant now.
When your toddler crawls, they:
- Build upper body and core strength.
- Engage in complex movement that requires both sides of their brain to work together .
- Receive deep-pressure sensory input and feedback on their hands, feet, knees, and legs.
- Learn how their body interacts with the environment.
If your baby skipped the crawling stage, they can gain these benefits through crawling play now.
1. Toddler ‘commute’
Give your child an activity they already like—puzzles work great for this—and place the pieces and the base at either end of the tunnel. Many toddlers are motivated to crawl through the tunnel to grab a piece and crawl back to the other end to place it into the puzzle’s base.
“This isn’t just fun, says Coley.”It also involves some problem-solving and trial-and-error: how do they crawl while holding onto something? How do they remember what they grabbed the puzzle piece for? How many pieces do they take in one trip?”
2. Shake and roll
As your toddler crawls through the tunnel, give it a good shake. Toddlers love this kind of movement—you can shake, roll, or rock the tunnel gently from side to side.
3. Add water
On a warm day, you can bring a cotton play tunnel outside and use it for water play:
- Place a baby pool at one end and invite your toddler to crawl through to the pool
- Aim a sprinkler to “rain” on the roof of the tunnel as they pass through
- Place a hose at one end so they crawl through a small amount of water.
Note: Please supervise your toddler closely and stay within arms’ reach while they play, as they can drown in as little as 1 inch of water.
4. Pass a ball
Sit just outside one end of the tunnel, with your toddler at the other. Place a soft, squishy ball at your end, then lift up the tunnel a little so the ball rolls toward your toddler. Encourage your toddler to lift the tunnel on their end to roll the ball back.
The lifting and rolling action is great motor planning practice and requires you to work together—an early exercise in teamwork. You can also invite your toddler to sit just inside the tunnel and push the ball forward with their crawling motion to get it all the way through.
5. Make a reading fort
For a quieter activity, turn out the lights and put a stack of your toddler’s favorite books inside. Offer them a flashlight and invite them to look at the pictures. You can also join them at one end to read books together—the cozy nature of the tunnel may encourage them to sit and listen for a little longer than usual 😉
The Organic Cotton Play Tunnel
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