You’ve probably heard about gross and fine motor skills and how they are an essential part of your child’s development. When thinking about school readiness, we often focus on fine motor skills like being able to grip a pencil, but whole body movement and gross motor development are equally important.
What are gross motor skills?
Gross motor skills incorporate whole body movement using the large muscles of the torso, arms, and legs to perform daily movement activities for kids. Although it may appear as if a child can acquire these skills automatically, but without help and supervision, they may never fully master gross motor skills.
Gross motor activities can be grouped into one of the 3 categories below:
- Locomotor activities: Actions that move you from one place to another, such as walking, running, skipping, hopping, sliding, and climbing.
- Non-locomotor activities: Actions while stationary like pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, swinging, and squatting.
- Manipulative skills: These include kicking, batting, throwing, and catching.
They also include hand-eye coordination skills such as throwing and catching, bike riding, and swimming. Motor planning is also a necessary skill that allows your child to recall what steps they need to get moving. Find out more about motor planning activities for children here.
Why is it important to develop gross motor skills?
The benefits of gross motor play are not only physical. Research shows the importance of gross motor skills in both physical and cognitive child development. Regular gross motor activities improve your child’s academic performance and enhance their attention and memory, especially in elementary and middle school.
Children who have good control of their core stabilizing muscles have improved endurance and will better prepare for the school day’s rigors. Both fine motor skills and gross motor skills are important; gross motor ability is often related to fine motor competence. A child’s ability to maintain their posture correctly when sitting will have less difficulty with fine motor activities such as drawing, writing, and cutting.
As we know, babies have very little gross motor coordination or core muscle strength. Gross motor skills develop as your child grows, gains core and large muscle strength, and learns to control these muscles.
Gross motor activities for infants
From infancy, it is possible to engage your little ones in activities that promote gross motor movement. Infant gross motor skills activities are not complex.
The most important early activity for your infant is tummy time. Lifting their heads and later their upper bodies are hard work and require effort, muscle coordination, and concentration. Having visually appealing toys in view will keep them motivated. Soon, upper body strength will assist them with rolling, sitting upright, and getting up on all fours.
Once your baby can sit, gross motor play activities for babies encourage gross and fine motor activity. They include:
- Rolling balls
- Scrunching paper
- Push and pull toys
Encourage your infant to crawl by providing unusual textures such as a textured rug or bubble wrap or by placing a toy a few feet away. Remember that not all infants crawl on all fours immediately (or at all), and your baby may prefer a modified crawl that gets them to their destination faster.
Gross motor activities for toddlers
Gross motor skills develop quickly in toddlers. Between the ages of 12 and 36 months, your child should have shown progress in: being able to walk independently, attempting to run, crawling up and creeping downstairs, underhanded throwing, being able to balance momentarily on one foot, walking up stairs with alternating feet (and down with 2 feet on the same step), standing on tiptoe, and riding a tricycle using the pedals.
Activities that focus on balance are an excellent way for toddlers to improve their core muscle strength. Balance is a vital skill as your child needs it for future skills such as navigating stairs, hopping, and skipping. You can find some simple balancing activities for toddlers to incorporate into your daily activities here.
Here are some great motor activities for toddlers:
- Making obstacle courses out of soft furnishings like pillows
- Climbing through hoops
- Practicing stair climbing on low curbs
- Squatting at clean-up time
Gross motor activities for preschoolers
As your child increases in confidence and competence, they will be able to balance on one foot for long periods, climb stairs without support, walk on a line, use a slide independently, and propel themselves on a swing. Between the ages of 3 and 5, they will develop the skills requires to climb a playground slide ladder without assistance, jump backward, and throw a ball at a target.
Great movement activities for preschoolers include:
- Playing on playground equipment
- Riding tricycles and scooters
- Dancing (free movement)
Preschoolers can play more independently. Some outdoor gross motor activities for preschoolers consist of:
- Target practice (throwing beanbags at a target)
- A sensory walking path
- Obstacle courses with logs and playground equipment
- Ball games (catching, bouncing, kicking, rolling)
- Interactive games like playing tag
Indoor games for preschoolers don’t need to take up huge amounts of space. Indoor activities to get them moving during the day may include:
- Dancing or singing songs that have movements
- A masking tape balance beam
- Pretend play (games using imagination, for example, pretending to be climbing a ladder or sweeping a floor)
- Making a mural
You can incorporate movement activities for kindergarten into the lesson plans for the day. Kids can:
- Sit on exercise balls.
- Move around the room, tagging items as instructed (for example, something green).
- Use and indoor hopscotch to practice “before and after.”
- Play charades based on the theme for the week.
A “wiggle jar” containing action cards can provide a movement break for little kids who find sitting still a challenge.
How to encourage gross motor skills
The best way to encourage gross motor skills is to make moving fun. It is equally important to be on the lookout for any signs that your child may be struggling with a gross motor task. If something is a challenge, it is not going to be enjoyable.
Suppose you are concerned about any aspect of your child’s development or any gross motor skills. In that case, the first thing to do is provide more practicing opportunities. If a problem persists, then you should speak to your family doctor, occupational therapist, or physical therapist for an assessment.
Make sure that movement activities are always available to your child and set device free time each day. By incorporating time for movement activities each day and observing and encouraging your child, you can ensure their gross motor skills develop appropriately for each age and that they are ready for the challenges of “big” school.