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Turn your living room into an indoor play gym

Turn your living room into an indoor play gym

When they can't get out to a playground or outdoor play space to work off some of their extraordinary energy, kids get grumpy. There's nothing wrong with their character or attitude – kids have an innate need to use their muscles and let out their physical energy. They have difficulty staying quiet and sitting still for hours on end, no matter how much parents might prefer quiet indoor activities like reading or crafts.

But you're not out of luck if you can't go to a big space outdoors, or outside at all, to play. What kids need is the chance to develop and use their gross motor skills: They want – they need! – to run, jump, hop, climb, rock, skip, swing, throw, and catch, because these are the movements that calm them and make them feel centered. When they can't move around briskly and use their bodies, their excess energy tends to turn into crankiness.

The movements and activities kids crave most varies by age. For instance, by age 4, most kids can pedal a tricycle, go up and down stairs, throw a ball overhand, hop on one foot, run, and climb. By age 8, most kids can ride a two-wheel bike, play many sports, dance, skip, and jump rope. Aside from the bicycling – unless you have a truly massive yard or a really long driveway – all of these activities can be done indoors or out, provided you have the right equipment. Here are some of BabyCenter's favorites that make active playtime possible even when you can't leave your home.

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  • 3 months and up

    MAGIFIRE Tummy Time Baby Water Mat

    Infants are positively enchanted by this play mat, which has an outer ring of soft, nontoxic plastic you inflate with air to support it and an interior mat section you fill with water, bringing a squishy "ocean" of toy sea creatures to life. Babies love to pat, slap, and kick the floating sea life, and tummy time is a lot easier with a toy that gives babies something beautiful to look at. Once playtime is over, the mat rolls up to go in any storage space.

    Available at Amazon starting at $15.99

  • 10 months and up

    SmarTrike Indoor Activity Center Folding Trampoline and Ball Pit

    This 3-in-1 toy is a winner because it works for so many ages and stages. When your baby's 10 months old, she can sit in the soft ball pit, digging and kicking in the pile of 100 colorful balls that come included. At 12 months, she's old enough to start bouncing on the trampoline, holding on to the attached handle for safely. At age 2, or when your child is ready to take the plunge, the handle comes off and players can enjoy freestyle wild jumping through age 5 or up until they weigh 55 pounds, whichever comes first. Parents who cherish a clean, uncluttered room will love that the balls easily store inside the ball pit's fabric cover, and that in trampoline mode, the smarTrike activity center folds in half and can go under the bed or in a closet until the next time playtime.

    Available at Walmart starting at $99.99

  • 2 and up

    MOLUK Bilibo

    This shatterproof-plastic shell-shaped toy doesn't look like much when it's just sitting on the ground. But give it to a young child and they'll find an infinite number of ways to play with it. They can sit in it and spin, rock from side to side, balance on top, and so on. This Swedish-designed wonder has no weight limit, so anyone who can fit inside or on top can play, but it's intended for kids ages 2 to 7. It comes in fun bright colors including pink, blue, green, yellow, red, and purple, so choose your child's favorite, then stand back and watch as they figure out creative new ways to play.

    Available at Amazon starting at $29.99

  • Pacific Play Tents Kids' Jungle Safari Tent and Tunnel Combo

    Play tents are a classic way to set apart private space for kids, and this tent has a neat feature: a 4-foot-long tunnel that players can crawl through to get to the inner sanctum (a larger side door zips open and shut for those who prefer not to crawl into the tent). Play tents are perfect for a wide range of ages – kids as young as 2 and as old as 10 or even 12 enjoy sitting inside and making up imaginary games in their own space. If you're looking for a toy to entertain siblings of different ages, this is a good one.

    Available at Target starting at $84.99

  • Outree Kids Pod Swing Seat Hammock Chair

    A doorway swing is a fantastic tension tamer, and the effect is even better when kids have some sort of cocoon to hide away from the world in as they swing. Outree's reasonably priced pod swing holds up to 100 pounds of kid (or adult!) and comes with all the hardware you need to hang it from a ceiling or a tree. It makes a great reading nook if you leave it up all the time, or detaches from its hardware easily if you want to take it down in between uses. It comes in cheerful color combinations like red and green, pink and blue, and yellow and white, so you can choose one that coordinates with the décor in whatever room it's installed in. The swing's 100% cotton-canvas material is soft, breathable, and washable, too.

    Available at Amazon starting at $35.99

  • 3 and up

    Alex Active Monkey Balance Board

    Working on balance is a big deal for the preschool set, and even tweens and teens love a chance to try their skill at a balance board. Although the Alex Active Monkey board is built specially for little feet – and its cheerful graphics suggest a toddler toy – it's sturdy enough to handle balancers of up to 200 pounds, so everyone in the family can take a turn trying to balance upright without listing or toppling off. Once your child has got the hang of balancing in place, put on some music so he can wobble from side to side in rhythm.

    Available at Amazon starting at $18.17

  • Waliki Hopper Ball

    An inflatable toy with handles that riders can grab onto as they hop around the room is a kids' classic that's great for tweens, teens, and even adults. That's why Waliki's durable ball toy comes in many sizes: a small ball for kids ages 3 to 6, one size up for kids ages 7 to 9, a larger ball for kids ages 10 to 12, and a big 29-inch ball for ages 13 to adult that holds up to 300 pounds. Each ball comes with an inflation tool that pumps up the ball from flat to bouncy in 5 minutes or less, and once playtime is over, the ball is easily deflated for compact storage. And they're inexpensive enough to get one for every member of the family.

    Available at Amazon starting at $14.98

  • Pure Fun Rocker

    Rocking is a beloved kids' pastime, but once they outgrow their little wooden rocking horse or chair, they may only have the chance to get in their back-and-forths on playground equipment. Change the game with this super-sturdy indoor-outdoor seesaw toy for kids ages 3 to 7. The rocker holds up to 75 pounds per seat (or 150 pounds total), and has handles for riders to hang on to as they joyously shift their weight to and fro. The durable steel frame is smooth on the bottom so it won't leave marks on your floor, and it's tough enough to drag outside on nice days. If you have just one child, Pure Fun makes a fully fun-loaded Single Rocker, and if you have more than two kids, there's a multi-child version that will seat up to three.

    Available at Wayfair starting at $97.99

  • 4 and up

    Fantasy Forts Castle-Building Set

    Wise parents know that building a fort is often the beginning of a whole day of immersive play. But setting up sheet-draped folding chairs will only take you so far, and forts that keep collapsing bring fruitful play to a sudden (and often emotional) end. These sturdy panels connect with hook-and-loop links, and can be attached in many different ways according to where kids' imaginations take them. This 16-piece set makes a structure big enough for several kids to play inside, but if you have a particularly large play space, you can get a 32-panel version for even more expansive fantasies. Both sets include square panels for walls, window panels with holes to peek out, and hinge connectors so kids can have their own working doors to open and close.

    Available at Magic Cabin starting at $39.98

  • 5 and up

    Scooter Floor Hockey

    Combining the competitive fun of hockey with the low-to-the-ground pleasures of scooting around on a wheeled vehicle, this two-person floor hockey set is a kick. The scooters roll on sturdy caster wheels and each holds a player of up to 175 pounds. Kids are in the driver's seat as they maneuver around the living room or play room in a game of red against blue. They bat the ball (standing in for the puck) with big, fun foam paddles, trying to send it between their opponent's goal posts (actually wide flat cones) to score. Kids will gain core and leg strength and agility as they race each other around the room.

    Available at HearthSong starting at $120


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