Advice for Taking Your 1-2 Year Old to the Park

Toddler at Park
Taking Your 1-2 Year Old to the Park. GettyImages

Taking an 18-month-old to the park is equal parts wonderful and nerve-wracking.

We are an urban family and the park across the street from our apartment has been a staple of our summer. Some of my favorite parenting moments have occurred there. My toddler loves the slide, the swings, and the chance to interact with other kids.

I first started taking my son to the park regularly at 18 months old. He was steady on his feet, but not totally aware of the perils of heights.

(He knew about heights from our couch and our bed but did not translate this information to the platforms.)

Giving my toddler space to explore new challenges is important to me, but at the park I found myself acting like a helicopter parent, tracking him closely as he was inevitably drawn to the equipment designed for older kids. And even when attempting to hover, he still walked off a platform and had a horrific-looking fall.

Suzanne Greenwood and Mary Singer are two pediatric occupational therapists, who recently created a website called Passport to Function. The website is a platform to discuss the therapeutic benefits of playing at the park and has a library of play ideas. I reached out to them with my questions about taking 1-2 year olds to the park.

Q: Let's start with the most basic question: Is the park valuable for this age group?

Absolutely! We encourage parents to take their children to the park when they can balance well in sitting and beginning to crawl, at about 7-8 months.

Opportunities to explore textures and play in the sand and grass, movement in the baby swings, climbing on the play structures, and sliding on the slide are all incredibly valuable and support development.

Q: What safety tips do you have?

Babies and young children have very little fear, so a bit of hovering over them is important to avoid injuries.

Young babies in a bucket swing are safer if they lean forward and rest their chest on the swing. We sometimes put a small towel between the child's back and the swing seat to keep them more stable. On the slide, we always have a hand on a baby or toddler, or better yet, climb and slide down with them! With little ones, it is important to think ahead and see any possible trouble they are heading toward before they get there.

Q: What pieces of equipment/activities would you recommend?

Toddlers love the swings, slides, climbing equipment, climbing hills and going up and down stairs. Sand and grass provide wonderful opportunities for tactile exploration. Our approach is to let the child lead, weaving in playful ideas along the way. We sing songs and play catch with a bean-bag or softball while the child is swinging.

Q: Are there other outdoor play spaces you would recommend for this age group?

The beach is great because tactile play is built in with the sand and the water. Walking in sand allows for new balance challenges.

Keeping a close eye on your toddler is very important around any body of water, though, and 2-year-olds can be very quick on their feet and eager to investigate those waves without checking with you.

Q: Any resources you would recommend for understanding the motor and social development of this age group?

We like the work of William Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N. for parenting and child care tips and the Gesell Institute's Child from One to Six for information about development. Other parents are a great resource for what is typical and can be a welcome support and sounding board for navigating parenthood.

The information contained on the About.com occupational therapy pages should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or other professional care.

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