Kids develop at different rates, but when your child is having trouble with gross motor skills, it can affect all kinds of different areas of their life.
Here’s everything parents need to know about gross motor skills, and how to use activities to keep kids up to speed with their development.
What are gross motor skills and why are they important?
Gross motor skills — sometimes just called physical skills — are abilities that require whole-body movement. This includes things like standing, walking, running, but also simple things like sitting upright at the table, getting dressed, and brushing your teeth.
Gross motor skill is related to other abilities, like balance, coordination, physical strength, body awareness, and reaction speed. Any activity that involves the core muscles of the body can be called a gross motor skill. They also include hand-eye coordination skills like throwing and catching, as well as riding a bike or swimming.
Gross motor skills are essential for everyday function and have an influence on all areas of a child’s life. For example, the ability to sit up and have correct posture will in turn affect fine motor skills (like writing) and also the ability to concentrate and learn in a classroom setting.
Weak gross motor skills can also impact a child’s self-esteem and social life.
How to spot difficulties with gross motor skills
Do you have a niggly feeling that your kid isn’t developing as fast as their friends? These are the early warning signs of slow gross motor skill acquisition…
- Lack of interest in everyday tasks that require gross motor skills.
- Clumsiness or trouble doing full-body movements, like jumping jacks or running.
- Poor balance or hand-eye coordination.
- Rushing to complete physical tasks in order to hide their fatigue or struggle.
- Telling other people to do a physical task or play a game, so they don’t have to.
- Acting silly while completing tasks they find challenging.
9 activities for kids to improve gross motor skills
As we age, gross motor skills become second nature. Most of us use these skills easily and subconsciously, but it’s not uncommon for some children to struggle with certain muscle groups.
The good news is, there are plenty of activities designed to help hone your child’s gross motor skills — all of which can be integrated into their regular playtime activities.
Hopping and jumping help kids build strong core muscles while engaging their balance and challenging their coordination skills. If it’s raining, or you don’t have a sidewalk that you can chalk up, you could make an indoor hopscotch course using painters tape on the floor.
2. Balloon play
Most parents know that a single inflated balloon can provide hours of entertainment. But did you know that they’re also a great tool for developing gross motor skills as well?
Balloons are a lot lighter than balls, so once you throw them around it’s a lot harder to predict where they’ll end up.
A simple game of “keep the balloon off the ground” will have kids zooming around, flexing their core muscles, developing agility, and hand-eye skills. Games where they have to reflexively react, and shift their weight around, are key for building motor skills.
Dancing has so many benefits — both physical and mental — and is a fun way to hone gross motor skills without even realizing it.
Whether you go all out and take your kids to a dance class, or just turn on some music at home and start moving, it’ll help kids develop balance, coordination, and motor sequencing skills.
4. Play a musical instrument
Musical instruments require hand-eye coordination and engage different muscle sets depending on the action involved. You don’t have to go all out and buy a grand piano or brand new violin, even just a toy drum set or xylophone is an ideal place to start.
Trampolines are a wonderfully fun way to build balance skills and train core muscles. Kids will be endlessly entertained by a backyard trampoline, or you can take a field trip to a trampoline park instead.
Once kids can walk on flat ground with ease, it’s a good idea to then practice walking on uneven surfaces. This will help develop strong trunk muscles, making balancing even easier.
Going on a short hike is an excellent way to do this, or through a park where there are rocks, they can climb and walk along.
Can’t get outside the city? Walking along pillows on the floor is a good substitute for an uneven surface — just be there to help catch them if they slip!
Swimming is a great full-body exercise that will engage all of your child’s muscles at once. Working against the resistance of the water to move through it will help build their muscle strength.
But swimming also helps build their proprioceptive awareness — knowing where their body is in relation to what’s around it.
8. Riding a bike
There’s a reason that learning to ride a bike is a classic early childhood accomplishment. Cycling engages your child’s main core muscles as they use their full body to remain balanced and upright on their bike.
Start off using training wheels or a tricycle to get them feeling confident, but the sooner they’re riding on two wheels the better. Having a bike is also a great way to give your kids a sense of independence and exploration.
This is a fun indoor activity, especially for restless kids who are prone to fidgeting. It’s the best way to work on developing hand-eye coordination, and is an inexpensive hobby to pick up!
It can be a little frustrating at first but will do wonders for their motor skills, so encourage them to keep going. There are many instructional videos online to get them started.
Flex those gross motor skills today with these fun activities
As parents, it’s almost unavoidable to compare your child against someone else’s. But just remember: kids develop differently, and just because yours doesn’t have the same balance and strength right now, doesn’t mean it’ll go on like that forever.
If you’re worried, simply introduce a new gross motor skill activity each week — until your little one is out-running, out-jumping, and out-climbing the rest of them!
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