Learn to toddle and skip: creative play and practice

THINK of children, and you think of perpetual motion. Babies kick and wiggle. Toddlers toddle. And as far as older kids are concerned - why walk when you can hop, skip, or run? Much of their physical activity comes naturally. But some skills children learn by example and practice. And this is an area where a parent can help.

Drawing on her background as a parent, world-class gymnast, professional coach, and movement researcher for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Patty Carmichael Gerard has created a step-by-step program to help children develop their skills by putting a little practice into their play.

In her book (co-written with Marion Cohn) Teaching Your Child Basic Body Confidence (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 217 pp., $22.95 cloth, $12.95 paper), Ms. Gerard presents a sequence of 96 activities that a parent can guide a child through, arranged according to the average age at which each skill is learned - things like rolling from back to side (for a baby) and cartwheels (for an older child).

Gerard's ideas are solid, her approach relaxed and commonsensical. These aren't rigorous exercises, nor are they time consuming. There's none of the trendy, self-conscious emphasis all too prevalent these days on raising a ``superbaby.'' It's simply a series of fun things a parent can help a child do to gain confidence and agility.

The book is nicely laid out, with clear, concise instructions, and a black-and-white photograph to go along with each step. Best of all, there's no competitive edge - it's just child's play. After all, that's what being a kid is all about.

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