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How To Encourage Gross Motor Skills – A Guide For Parents

Little girl jumping through the elastic, playing with other children.
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Everyone learns things at different rates, and sometimes even then, we need a little help along the way. Especially in our infancy while our brains are still developing, children may require a little extra encouragement for their gross motor skills along the way. So what do we do as parents if our kids are struggling with gross motor skills? What are some of the ways we can encourage gross motor skills in our children?

Activities that target body awareness, balance, muscle coordination, and spatial awareness all encourage gross motor skills. The trick is working out which activities are the most fun for our children and what they are likely to do on a daily or weekly basis. Because repetition is needed to develop gross motor skills.

Let’s explore what some of these activities are that encourage gross motor skills, how these activities can help, and ways to make them fun for our kids!

Indoor Activities That Strengthen Gross Motor Skills In Kids

It’s essential to know that we have options to encourage and help gross motor skills develop no matter the season. That’s why there are plenty of activities we can do inside the home that encourages play and movement. 

Animal Walks

Try asking your child to move like their favorite animal; this motor skill will help them utilize their large muscles in different ways.

  • A Flying Bird – running with their arms out to their side.
  • A Sneaky Snake – have them lay on their stomach on the floor and wiggle, imitating the movement of a snake. 
  • A Brown Bear – have them get on all fours and walk around the room.
  • A Leaping Frog – have them squat and hunched down and hop.
  • A Wise Elephant – Have them walk across the room with heavy stomping and a long nose. 

Here are some flashcards for different animals.

Dance It Out 

Put on some music with instructions on how to dance; this motor skill is a fun way to engage the body and keep them interested and follow instructions. There are plenty of resources online for instructional music that can be found on YouTube. These are fantastic to develop your child’s gross motor skills.

At ReadyKids we often use GoNoodle & Cosmic Kids Yoga
Cosmic Kids Yoga

Pretend Sports & Play Mime

Have them mimic movements that are seen during sporting events. For instance, shooting a basketball, throwing a football, or playing tennis with a racket. These ball skills are wonderful for promoting whole body movement. You can consider using cards that depict one of the sports on them to keep the game random and have them guessing!

Have them mimic your every move as you move through the exercises that can be silly, like scratching the head like a monkey, acting out a jumping bunny, or running like a cheetah. You can also try having them follow your speed of walking in place. Go from slow-motion to normal to fast. Whatever series of movements help them practice their gross motor abilities. 

Recite The Alphabet

Have them learn the alphabet while keeping the body engaged by asking them to mimic different letters in the alphabet. This motor skill activity is a wonderful way to get those little academic geniuses moving their body & developing their gross motor skills. Once completed with the maneuver more onto the next alphabet and see how far you can get. Alternatively, you can have them spell out specific words or their name, and this motor skill will help them with their spelling as well. 

Yoga & Balance Beams

Girls at preschool, portrait balancing on balance beam in garden

Yoga poses encourage body awareness, self-regulation while also benefiting memory and focus. All of which encourage gross motor skills. Try having your kids mimic your movements or consider making cards that have the yoga movements on them so they can work independently. There are also classes that kids can participate in but still go at their own pace. Yoga poses are one of the best ways to improve your child’s gross motor skill.

Yoga cards:

Use painters’ tape or masking tape and put a line on the floor. Have them try and ‘balance’ on the beam, one foot closer to the other being careful not to ‘fall.’ This can help them focus and create an idea of distance and speed. 

Active Extracurricular Activities

Consider extracurricular activities such as dance or martial arts as they both encourage movement and help the child be in social environments. These opportunities may help them feel encouraged or help build confidence in their motor abilities alongside peers. 

Outdoor Activities That Strengthen Gross Motor Skills In Kids

Since there are tons of space outside, there is plenty of room for activities to build strength and confidence in motor abilities. Not just with playground equipment but utilizing the things right there in the backyard. 

Utilise Toys

Adding toys to practice is a creative opportunity to utilize toys such as tricycles or scooters that require them to maneuver and pedal, engaging their extremities with a fun and engaging activity. There’s also a lot of work that can be done with simply a box of chalk. Use chalk on the driveway and draw a series of boxes to play hopscotch. Hopscotch helps increase balance, improves coordination, and also helps learn numbers. Or write the letters of their name in a different sequence and ask your child to spell it out by jumping on the letters to spell their name in the correct order. 

Take A Walk

Taking a walk with your kids around the neighborhood or down to the park instead of taking the car can help them get more opportunities to enhance their gross motor skills. Try giving them some instruction when walking to add variety, such as marching or skipping. 

Obstacle Courses

An obstacle course may be time-consuming, but it will also be rewarding! Kids love obstacle courses & they are one of the best ways to strengthen gross motor skills in a child. Try putting together an obstacle course with whatever you can find. Creating an obstacle course can be in the backyard with some random toys or items, maybe even with just some rocks or around some bushes. 

Have them practice some animal’s movements or mimic some movements from above, such as balancing on one leg or jumping forward. Creating a course will be a stimulating activity that will encourage movement repeatedly with ever-evolving opportunities to change the course structure. Encouraging your child to make up part of the obstacle course can make this gross motor development activity more motivating. 

Outdoor Hobbies

If you have a swimming pool or trampoline, these are also useful tools to encourage movement. With a flotation device, support them inside the water to outstretch the arms and kick in the water. A trampoline will help as the body moves, twisting and turning, utilising the torso, arms, and legs. It is an excellent tool for targeting those key areas. 

Other Ways To Encourage Gross Motor Skills In Kids

There are ways you can encourage motor skills even in their day-to-day routines before or after school time that keep them engaged and interested in movement. 

Play Music

Music is a fantastic tool for kids to improve their gross motor skill. Encourage music in the morning and throughout the day that isn’t too slow or fast, just enough to get them to reach their arms high, and able to touch the floor and maybe break into some dance moves now and then. 

Night Stretch

Alternatively to music, consider incorporating a nighttime yoga routine to help kids feel centered and encourage deep breaths while acknowledging their bodies. Not only do they learn, it’s okay to relax, but also it creates a connection between taking a breath and physical activity. Practicing this gross motor development activity at night can help alleviate some of that extra energy and put them at a physical (and mental) state of ease. 

General Guidelines For Gross Motor Development 

Gross motor skills target the large muscles associated with movement and coordination, mainly the extremities, such as the arms and legs and the torso. Unlike fine motor skills which helps a person to complete tasks requiring more intricate movements.

To exercise these areas, one performs physical activities to engage these areas to improve their gross motor skill:

  • Awareness of themselves (their physical presence)
  • The reaction speed of an event occurring (i.e., throwing a baseball)
  • Independent balance and strength

A few actions that demonstrate exercising gross motor skills are:

  • Walking or running
  • Playing catch (throwing and receiving)
  • Using weights to lift (building strength)

These movements are generally achieved in childhood and gradually, through observation, children gain the gross motor ability to imitate the environment around them. Building awareness of how their body takes up space and how to coordinate their extremities to perform specific tasks or activities helps them improve their control of these movements. 

These skills are generally acquired through an individual’s childhood developing their abilities until five years of age.

Developmental Milestones For Gross Motor Development

There is a general guideline of what coordination & gross motor skills are achieved (on average) at what age in early childhood. Please note, these gross motor skills developmental milestones are on average and for a more complete look at where your child is at you should get an OT assessment.

Age Zero To Six Months

For ages between zero to six months, newborns can roll from the front of their stomach to their back and sit in an erect position with support, gradually becoming able to sit independently. If this milestone is not met, this could cause some delayed abilities in independent play or poor muscle development. 

Ways to encourage development at this stage are to practice having the infant lie on its stomach for a few minutes; this enables the muscles to become stronger gradually. Try also placing toys nearby where the baby can try and reach for them. 

Age Six Months To One Year

For ages six to a year old, the skills increase from rolling onto the stomach to crawl. Sitting is now achieved without support, and they’re able to pull themselves up to a standing position. They begin to develop the ability to take steps (very limited, about 2-3 steps) without an adult’s aid. Sensory development may be subject to a delay due to less exploration; this may also impact muscle growth and the ability to play independently. 

To strengthen some of these skills, try having your baby take the lead during storytime by flipping the book’s pages. At this milestone, consider playing games or using movements that your child can imitate to strengthen their muscles. 

Age One Year And Six Months (18 Months)

At 18 months, the gross motor ability to sit and crawl comes with ease, and walking becomes less clumsy. This stage refines the preceding milestone, and motor skills become more effortless though, an implication that may occur if development isn’t attained could be the delayed ability to interact with the environment as mobilising oneself becomes difficult and may result in less muscle strength. 

As a way to encourage your child to strengthen these skills at this milestone, consider investing in toys with moving parts – but do proceed with caution that the toys remain attached as they could pose as a choking hazard otherwise. 

At Two Years Of Age

Walking becomes much more manageable at two years, and toddlers can navigate corners in a home or building. Children begin running or climbing without assistance. They’re often able to pick up objects from the ground without toppling over. At two years, they can often walk up and down stairways but still with adult supervision and aide.

If this milestone isn’t met, some implications could arise. For instance, muscle strength may be affected, and the toddler’s ability to play or interact with their environment is independent of their guardian. They also may have difficulty interacting in social settings. 

To encourage gross motor skills at this milestone, try utilising blocks and seeing how high your toddler can build a tower or encourage exploration of the things or items placed around him or her. 

At Three Years Of Age

At three years, a child can hold their balance on one foot and imitate movements such as having arms together and other bilateral gestures. The ability to walk strengthens, as they’re able to jump, walk on tiptoes, and catch their body weight if they accidentally fall. 

Now walking on tiptoes is very different than toe walking, if you do catch your child constantly toe walking it might be a good idea to read our article on the association between toe walking and autism.

If this milestone is difficult, this could lead to decreased chances of engaging with others to strengthen social skills and create a deficit in confidence when interacting with others. The child may also experience difficulties in body awareness, movement, and he or she may also have trouble utilising playground equipment. It is stress here that gross motor skills develop increase a child’s sense of confidence in social interactions.

At Four Years Of Age

For a child of four years, their gross motor abilities should include balancing their weight for longer stents of time (child development) and being able to maneuver physical gestures in most sports. For instance, throwing a ball (catching when bounced to them), kicking, jumping over objects, and navigation of obstacles. 

If there’s difficulty with this milestone, confidence issues may develop as impacted as the social opportunities may decrease. Problems may arise with equipment and activities that require movement. Ways to encourage growth at this age is to try throwing a soft object, like a ball or stuffed animal, back and forth. For practicing balance, try having your child balance on one leg and time how long they can hold still. 

At Five Years Of Age

At this age, children can generally maneuver walking as second nature and walk backward. Jumping comes with ease without falling and can be performed numerous times in a row. The ability to catch balls when thrown significantly increase. 

If there is difficulty reaching this gross motor skills milestone, there may be a lack of confidence when participating in social environments requiring activity. 

For added practice at this stage, try having your child run between you and an object and further the distance. For example, have them run from you to a tree and back, and then extend to a further object or landmark. 

What If My Child Is Experiencing Difficulty Reaching Milestones? 

Learning the criteria for each gross motor skills milestone benefits a parent or guardian to know what development skills need more work. It’s not uncommon to have children experience difficulty in some areas, and some may require a little more assistance. 

  1. Take Notes: The more noticed in their behavior and activity, the better the image of what needs addressing if there’s a task that appears to cause frustration to write down what’s eliciting this response and look for patterns. 
  2. Ask Others: Speaking with others involved in the care of your child can help to see something you might not notice at home, especially in learning or active environments such as school and childcares. This conversation will add more insight into these patterns and what to focus on and what needs improvement. 
  3. Reach Out: The next step is figuring out where to go once you’ve noticed that your child is struggling. Consider reaching out to the child’s school or your healthcare provider for suggestions. There might be an evaluation that the school could provide to give you a better assessment.
  4. Talk It Out: Discuss with your child to see what makes them feel frustrated or if they’re experiencing any self-esteem issues associated with activity and social interaction. Creating an environment at home where kids can express their obstacles will only offer more insight into their challenges and help them improve a more positive mindset around improving.
  5. Improving Motor Skills: There are several different ways to encourage the improvement of motor skills, both fine motor skills & gross, that can be done in the home and outside in a shared environment, such as a playground. Get specific on what areas and challenges your kid is facing and decide on some activities that will best benefit their growth. 

These are just a few examples of what to do if your child is experiencing difficulty reaching gross motor skills milestones.

Final Thoughts & Where To Begin

It’s essential to keep in mind that individuals develop skills at different rates, and it’s not uncommon that some kids need extra assistance along the way. If you notice that your child is having difficulties with one of the milestones listed in the general guidelines, then take note of their behaviour and habits and discuss your concerns with others. 

Taking the initiative to quickly understand the pattern may be so that work inside the home (and out) can help benefit the student’s overall learning and growth. Unlike fine motor skills, gross motor skills are usually developed out of the classroom so parents need to get a little more involved in this one.

Consider signing up to the ReadyKids platform for extra information including videos and handouts on some better forms of exercise and movement that can be incorporated to target the needs of your child and help to encourage development in the areas where they need it the most. Gross motor skills are an area which occupational therapy & physical therapy specialise in so if professional help is needed, be sure to contact your local OT or Physio.

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