5 Fun Gross Motor Activities For Children

This blog has been written with the help our industry expert, Helen Gill. An experienced Physiotherapist with a history working in the health, wellness and fitness industry. She has a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Physiotherapy and holds a Level 3 Diploma in Sports Massage. In this blog she shares 5 fun and entertaining activities to develop gross motor skills in infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers.

What are gross motor skills?

Gross motor skills involve the coordination of the large muscles of the body and the neurological system. They have an impact on 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. 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.

The importance of gross motor skills

Developing gross motor skills are important for the physical development of children. From learning self-care and maintaining good posture, to navigating their environment and generally getting more independence. It helps children gain strength and confidence in their body which allows them to get exercise and physical activity – a key element of a healthy lifestyle. Developing these skills will help a child to accomplish more complex tasks in future.

Once children have acquired core gross motor skills they can then begin to develop fine motor skills. 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.

Gross motor activities for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers

These activities have been selected to encourage gross motor development at various stages of a young child’s life. They are a great way to encourage your little ones to stay active as they develop their essential gross motor skills.

1. Building with blocks

Suitable for ages 1-2 years

Playing with building blocks allows children to develop their hand-eye coordination as they pile blocks high. They will also learn to coordinate their body and position themselves accordingly as they stack, sort and build.

Building with blocks can be done independently or in a time proving children with the opportunity to develop their social skills as well as their gross motor skills.

Finally, 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

Ideal for ages 2-3 years

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, target or net using two different techniques: the underhand throw and overhand throw.  

Practice the arm moments several times before actually throwing the ball, 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

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 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

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 throw a beanbag into one of the blocks – they will then need to hop through each block skipping the one the bean bag landed in. If this is too challenging, it can be simplified by removing the bean bag and just focusing on jumping in the blocks.

Throughout the game, children will 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

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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