I recently listed a simple play tunnel as a great open-ended toy for babies and toddlers. Learn more about why open-ended toys are great for development. Today, I thought I'd share some of the different ways we play with our play tunnel. Many of these play activities are great ways for siblings, friends or mixed age groups to play together.
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I love our K-Roo Sports 6-foot Play Tunnel because it's affordable, large enough in diameter for me to get my upper body in, and like most tunnels, collapses down flat with closures making it perfect for travel to relatives' homes who don't have many toys for baby.
Tunnel Play for Babies Who Roll & Sit
You may think of a play tunnel as a toy for babies who crawl but even a baby working on Tummy Time or learning to roll or sit can enjoy tunnel play. Of course, the following activities work well for bigger babies and toddlers as well.
Giant Ball Ramp
Using pillows, a piece of furniture, or a staircase to elevate one end of the tunnel, roll a soft ball down to your baby. Propping one end of the tunnel allows you to let go to retrieve the ball for a baby who's not yet crawling.
With either baby or you in the tunnel, pull the top edge of one end of the tunnel down to the floor to close it off. Letting go gives a nice dramatic “Peek-a-Boo!" The guys in my house came up with this fun variation (see photo) - this mommy's abs give out after about 40 seconds of this one!
Sit at opposite ends of the tunnel and show your little one how to shake, shake! This can be especially fun if you put stuffed animals, balls or other toys in the tunnel to shake. Add in some language and direction-following play by saying, “STOP” and “GO” or letting your kiddo call the shots!
Shake, Shake! (modified for not-yet-sitting babies)
Gather several sections of the tunnel together to shorten it (if yours is long like ours) and stand over your baby as she lays on her back. Peek down into the tunnel as you encourage her to shake her end with one or both hands.
Ball in the Hoop
Use the velcro closures or ties to collapse your tunnel into a hoop. Let your baby or toddler drop balls through the hoop as you hold it.
Use the velcro closures or ties to secure one side of each opening to each other, making your tunnel into a semi-circle. Use stuffed animals or dolls to sing, dance or play peek-a-boo around the bend so your child can’t see that you’re the puppeteer.
Caterpillar Hide & Seek
(If your tunnel is big enough for you to stand in) collapse the tunnel down flat on the ground and step into the circle it makes. Let go of the top opening and let it pop up to conceal you. You'll look ridiculous - like a caterpillar doing a headstand! Pull the top opening down to reveal yourself. Don't fit in the tunnel? Enlist the help of a sibling, cousin or neighbor kiddo.
Tunnel Play for Bigger Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers
Over The Mountain
Tunnel play can get more exciting when you add some throw pillows, rolled blankets and other soft obstacles underneath the tunnel.
Little kids love activities such as puzzles or ball/car ramps positioned at one end of the tunnel with the pieces at the opposite end. They’ll have to commute back and forth through the tunnel to complete their task. This is awesome for developing sustained attention and for learning to complete multi-step sequences. A fellow OT blogger mommy, Heather at Growing Hands on Kids Blog does a great job explaining how tunnel play is also great for sensory processing and has a fun Commute - style activity suggestion.
As your kiddo crawls through the tunnel, shake it until he giggles! Feel free to borrow this little rhyme as you play: "Popcorn on a string, let's see [your child's name] pop this thing. Pop pop pop, pop pop pa-pop! Pop pop pop, pop pop pa-pop! Pop pop pop, pop pop pa-pop! And now we STOP!" This makes a fun turn-taking group activity.
Most tunnels are made out of tent-like nylon material that will dry quickly without damage. If yours is, take your tunnel outside for water play - letting your kiddo crawl into a baby pool or crawl under a sprinkler through her tunnel.
Remember how much fun it was to get inside a fort as a little kid? Turn off the lights and put a stack of books (picture books work just fine for non-readers) and a flashlight in the tunnel and invite your toddlers or preschoolers to enjoy their new reading fort!
With you and your child (or two kids) at opposite ends of the tunnel, take turns lifting each end to roll a soft ball back and forth. This can take some trial and error for your kiddo to get the hang of but it’s great motor planning practice and takes teamwork!
Tunnel Play For Babies Who Skipped Crawling
If your kiddo skipped crawling as a baby, tunnel play is a great way to gain some of the same benefits in toddlerhood and in the preschool years. Learn more about why some babies skip crawling as well as other great activities for babies who skipped crawling. And Mama OT has a great in-depth post about the benefits of crawling.
Looking for more ways to play?
Learn to engage your baby in learning and strengthening play with 40 simple, yet creative activities. Learn more about your baby's development in the first year of life as you discover why each activity promotes milestones like sitting, crawling, standing, cruising and walking.
Fellow parents have described it as full of "great ideas", "a must-have for new parents," and "the perfect baby shower gift." Available in print and eBook.
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