There’s no doubt that squats are a go-to exercise to help build strength in the legs, but did you know that’s not the only benefit of kids squatting? Squats are a key movement we use throughout our day that provide endless benefits including improved muscle strength, balance, hip mobility, and sensory regulation. All of these areas are super important when we talk about ways to help our kiddos better access and interact with their environment. Here’s a few of our favorite ways to incorporate squats for kids and toddlers.
If your child is not quite standing independently but loves to play in standing while holding on, try moving their favorite toys to a lower surface such as a step or the floor to encourage squatting down while keeping one hand on the support surface. Repeat this on both sides to help build strength in the legs and challenge your child’s balance as they learn to shift their weight.
As your child gets more comfortable squatting, you can move the toy lower and lower until they are reaching all the way to the floor and returning to stand!
Similar to the previous exercise, this variation of squat increases the challenge by decreasing the amount of support from the arms. Try sticking squigz high and low on the wall, having your child squat down to pull them off while holding on to the wall for support.
The “baby squat” is often envied in the adult exercise world because of kid’s inherent ability to play in a deep squat position for longer periods of time than most adults can. Encouraging play in this position not only helps build strength but also encourages hip mobility and can provide sensory input via joint approximation in the hips.
Try using puzzles, blocks, or shaving cream on the floor to facilitate play in baby squat position.
This variation of squat is great for kid’s that have a hard time keeping their heels down due to decreased range of motion. Squatting on a declined surface can even out weight distribution so that your child is weightbearing through the whole foot instead of just the ball of the foot. You can use a ramp or a wedge to achieve the declined position. Try having your child transfer pieces of their favorite toy from the floor up to an elevated surface such as a bench or coffee table.
A great option if your child is already performing a standard squat without much help or if they demonstrate a strong preference for one leg over the other. Try having your kid squat with one foot elevated on a low surface such as a book or small step. This position facilitates increased weight through the foot on the floor which in turn creates an added strengthening challenge. To progress this activity you can continue raising the surface height to shift more weight on to the stance limb.
Holly is a pediatric physical therapist at NAPA Center Denver. She has always had a passion for pediatrics and working with children of all abilities. During her time in physical therapy school, Holly directed her passion towards founding a wheelchair seating and mobility clinic in Masindi, Uganda and participating in pediatric research through the South Carolina LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) program.