5 Fun Gross Motor Skills Activities For Children

This blog has been written with the help of one of our industry experts, Helen Gill, a highly experienced Physiotherapist with a history working in the health, wellness and fitness industry. She has obtained a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Physiotherapy and holds a Level 3 Diploma in Sports Massage. She shares 5 fun and entertaining activities to develop gross motor skills in infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

What are gross motor skills?

As we start to move out of lockdown, our children will be allowed to participate in a wider range of activities and will start to be challenged on their gross motor skills.

These skills involve the coordination of the large muscles of the body and the neurological system. They impact balance, coordination, physical awareness, strength, and reaction time.

Every child is different however the development of gross motor skills starts from birth and involves simple movements such as rolling over and sitting with support. Infants will then progress onto movements such as sitting independently, taking a few steps without the support of an adult and reaching for toys. Eventually, these movements will transition into crawling, walking, running, skipping and jumping and then onto more advanced movements such as climbing and hopping on one foot.

Importance of gross motor skills

Fine motor skills require the use of smaller muscle groups, such as movement of the hands, fingers and wrist. Tasks involving fine motor skills may include writing, drawing, grasping objects and playing with toys.
Before children can develop fine motor skills, they have to develop core gross motor skills as it supports fine motor development. For example a gross motor skill such as crawling will develop hand strength and endurance. A child may then find it easier to draw or write for longer periods of time.

Developing gross motor skills is important for the physical development of children, from learning self-care, maintaining good posture, navigating their environment, and participating in playground games and activities.

Babies and young children develop at their own pace however it’s important to make sure they’re reaching development milestones so they can perform everyday functions and be involved in age-appropriate activities.

Gross motor activities for infants, toddlers and preschoolers

These activities are fun, energetic, and an ideal way of helping infants, toddlers and preschoolers stay active while they develop their essential gross motor skills.

1. Building with blocks

Ideal for ages 1-2 years

What you’ll need:

Using building blocks you can encourage children to pick up the blocks using their hands and in teams. This way, you can inspire them to work collaboratively to build on their social skills as well as their gross motor skills. 

Building blocks typically involves placing a block on top of another, this teaches children to hone their hand-eye coordination so that they know to place the blocks where the tower will not topple. This also requires them to position themselves in a way where they have to purposefully coordinate their body to stack, sort and build.

Building with blocks is also a fantastic activity for developing creativity and imagination. Children can construct and build a tower, castle, house or whatever they feel like!  

2. Throwing a ball

Ideal for ages 2-3 years

What you’ll need:

Throwing a ball is a simple, but effective activity and is ideal for strengthening a child’s hand-eye coordination. It’s an integrated movement that involves the whole body – this requires balance, as well as planning and executing movements in a sequential, coordinated way.

This activity is best done in a large indoor or outdoor space. To make this activity slightly more challenging, children can practice throwing a ball at a wall, adult, target or net using two different techniques: the underhand throw and overhand throw.  

Practice the arm moments several times before actually throwing the ball and encourage the children to look where they are throwing and to do a slow controlled throw in an upward, forward direction. Aside from improving gross motor skills, children can benefit from enhanced focus and concentration. This can be done as a group activity and will help your little ones learn valuable social skills such as turn-taking. 

3. Line balancing

Ideal for ages 3-4 years

What you’ll need:

You can really go to town with this activity as there are lots of different variations that you can try. If you’re using tape, simply lay down your tape in long trails that represent different lines/courses – some squiggly, some straight! If you’re using balance beams, place your beams in an area that has lots of space – you may need some mats next to the beams in case your little ones fall! You could try asking the little ones to walk across the line or beam with their hands over their heads.

To make this even more challenging you could place small objects such as bean bags on the beam and ask the children to step over them. Encourage team collaboration by using games such as follow-the-leader. You can also ask them to copy what the leader does to activate their listening and processing capabilities.

This type of movement requires well-developed gross motor skills as the children will be engaging their core throughout and using their full body to manoeuvre. Initially, this activity may be fairly challenging as children learn how to balance their bodies in response to level and direction changes. With time, patience and practice they will gain more confidence however if they struggle it’s important to let them know that it’s ok.  

4. Hopscotch

Ideal for ages 4-5 years

What you’ll need:

Who doesn’t love hopscotch!  It’s fantastic for supporting the development of gross motor skills whilst encourage group play and building positive relationships with other kids.

You can draw the hopscotch pattern on the ground or use an indoor hopscotch carpet or outdoor play mat. The first child to go will need to throw a pebble/beanbag into one of the blocks – they will then need to hop through each block skipping the one the pebble or bean bag landed in. If this is too challenging, it can be simplified by removing the pebble and just focusing on jumping in the blocks.

Throughout the game, children must practice holding their balance as they hop on their feet, swapping between hopping on one foot at a time and two together. Children also develop strength during this game as they need to control their entire bodies while moving through the squares and lift them while jumping and hopping. Overall, moving and changing positions, helps to build their core and general strength.

5. Dancing

Ideal for ages 5-6

What you’ll need:

Fun, catchy music!

A large open space indoors/outdoors

Time to get those dancing shoes on. For most children dancing is an enjoyable activity – They love to get on their feet, move and shake their body to fun, catchy music! Dancing is great for channelling excess energy but also supports cognitive and physical development.

Stick on your music and demonstrate each movement slowly and clearly – sing along to the music to encourage the children to pick it up and practice their vocabulary. Start off by teaching simple moves that children can easily follow. Over time you can introduce more advanced sequences and instructions. Why not use creative dance resources to make it fun.

There are a wide variety of physical benefits from participating in dance as a child.  Emphasis is placed on children exploring a range of movements, developing spatial awareness, balance and also improve their coordination through dance.

Signs of not reaching milestones

Signs a child may not be reaching such milestones may include avoidance or general disinterest of the task, rushing through a task to mask discomfort, acting silly to distract from the task, or bossiness – telling others to do the task whilst avoiding it themselves. If you are concerned about your child’s development of gross motor skills, a physical therapist can assess these skills in order to determine any barriers or ways to improve. If you are concerned your child is regularly missing milestones, an appointment with your GP would be recommended.

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