Do you sometimes feel like your child is draining all your energy? Like you can no longer keep up with them? Do you sometimes regret not having your kids earlier when you were still “full of energy”?
If you have a toddler or preschooler at home, you probably already know everything about gross motor skills. These skills are the reason behind your child’s high energy levels that often leave you feeling exhausted. Children are constantly on the move during the early years because this is a period of great physical development.
Gross motor skills are associated with this physical development. They refer to the development of your child’s ability to move their entire body and to their postural control. These skills enable them to control large muscles such as their legs and arms in order to perfect movements like walking, balancing, sitting, crawling, coordinating, jumping, running, skipping, climbing, throwing, catching, kicking, cycling, and so on. Physical activity during the toddler and preschool years is a sign that your child is developing the physical skills that they need to be able to use their large muscles effectively.
The development of your child’s gross motor skills also has an impact on the development of their fine motor skills. This is because the stronger their muscles (legs, arms, trunk), the easier it will be for them to master the activities that require them to use their small muscles group.
Do Gross Motor Skills Really Matter For Toddlers And Preschoolers?
Physical activity is important for your child’s health and development but there are many other reasons why the development of their gross motor skills matters. These skills:
- Allow your child to develop abilities such as keeping still (for example when sitting at a desk), balancing, walking, running, crawling, catching, throwing, kicking, and so on.
- Allow them to dress and undress
- Prevent them from “bumping into things” in their path
- Allow them to walk and sit comfortably
- Prevent them from walking unsteadily
Examples of Gross Motor Skills For Toddlers And Preschoolers
Developmental milestones refer to what your child is expected to be able to achieve at a certain moment in their development. Here is a quick guide of what your child is “expected” to be able to do depending on their age. Please keep in mind that this is just a guide, and that not all children develop at the same rhythm. In other words, development delays are not uncommon in early childhood, and most kids end up catching up on their delays.
Gross motor skills at 2 months
- Your child can hold their head erect
- They can lift up their head and chest
- They can sit in an infant seat or sit when supported
Gross motor skills between 3 and 6 months
- Your child can lift their head while lying on their back
- They can turn their head to both sides
- They can roll
Gross motor skills between 6 and 12 months
- Your baby can sit independently
- He/she begins to creep on their stomach
- He/she begins to crawl (from about 7 months)
- He/she can stand while holding onto a chair (from about 8 months)
- He/she can move around a room while holding onto furniture (from about 8 months)
- He/she can stand alone by about 12 months
- He/she can walk with one hand held (from about 12 months)
Gross motor skill skills between 12 and 18 months
- Your child starts walking independently (normally from about 15 months)
- He/she can choose and pull toys
- He/she starts running
Gross motor skill activities at age two
- Your child can run
- He/she can walk up and down stairs with support
- He/she starts climbing
- He/she starts kicking balls
- He/she can tiptoe
Gross motor skill activities at age three
- Your child has sufficiently mastered walking to engage in games that require them to stop or start walking suddenly
- He/she has mastered postural control
- He/she can jump with both feet
- He/she can walk backward
- He/she can hop or stand on one foot
- He/she can play with toys such as pikler triangles
- He/she can ride a tricycle
- He/she starts kicking and throwing balls
- He/she starts catching balls (with difficulty)
Gross motor skills at age four
- Your child perfects the movements mastered at age three. For example, they can hop on one foot
- He/she can jump over objects
- He/she can jump either forwards or backwards
- He/she has mastered climbing stairs
- He/she can throw and catch balls
Gross motor skill activities at age five
- Your child goes even further in perfecting the skills that they have learned. For example, they can hop up and down the stairs on one foot.
- He/she can skip
- He/she can balance on one foot for longer periods of time
- Your child can run faster and has also perfected their balance
Gross motor skill activities between ages six and nine
- Your child can ride a bike
- He/she can swim
- He/she can skate
- He/she had developed sufficient strength in the arms to use a hammer
- He/she can participate with ease in many different physical activities
- He/she can jump over reasonably high barriers
For more information on gross motor skills, check out the CDC site.
Letting toddlers and preschoolers engage in different activities that require them to use their large muscles group is good for them. All children need physical activity every day, not just for the development of their gross motor skills but also because exercise keeps them fit and happy!
The good news about developing your child’s gross motor skills is that most gross motor activities are fun so your child will enjoy doing them. The World Health Organization says that children require at least three hours of daily physical activity, but this can be spread across different periods throughout the day. In other words, it is important to provide your child with opportunities to practice activities that help develop their gross motor skills every day.
Below are several outdoor and indoor activities your child might enjoy.
44 Gross Motor Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers
Most activities that encourage your child to move are great for the development of their large muscles group. Children gain awareness of what they are able to do – or not – as they grow older, and this could lead to risky behavior as they try to copy their peers or older children, or even as they try to impress others with their prowess. It is therefore important to set clear rules where potentially harmful activities are concerned (for example “what not to do in a trampoline or a slide).
Here are 44 gross motor activities that they probably already engage in and new and easy to implement ideas that you can try out.
22 Outdoor Gross Motor Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers
- Encouraging free play outdoors is something you probably already do and it is a great activity for developing your child’s gross motor skills.
2) Let your child rake leaves to strengthen their arm muscles.
3) Place sticks on the ground and let your child jump in between the gaps from one stick to another. As they get better, place the sticks further apart.
4) Trampolines are great for strengthening your child’s gross motor skills.
5) Encourage your child to ride their tricycle or bike whenever possible. As they grow older, you can place obstacles on their path for them to navigate.
6) Let your child practice throwing using wooden skittles.
7) Organize an obstacle race.
8) An egg-and-spoon race is great for developing your child’s gross motor skills.
9) Swimming helps your child strengthen their hand, arm and leg muscles. And any movement they make in the pool is great for them!
10) Slides are easy activities many kids love, and they also help with their gross motor skills.
11) Monkey bars are great for helping your child strengthen their arms and let muscles. If you don’t have a monkey bar at home, head over to the park and let your child take advantage of the monkey bars and climbing jungle gyms there.
12) All sorts of throwing games are great motor skills activities. Your child can throw a ball, a bean bag, a hula hoop, and so on. To make it more fun, try playing a “see how far you can throw” game, or get a target and have them practice hitting it.
13) Organize relay races.
14) Swings are great for teaching kids about balance.
15) Organize a treasure hunt that will require your child to bend, turn things over, twist and stretch.
16) All running games that your child already probably engages in are great for strengthening their gross motor skills.
17) Jumping rope is a great activity for toddlers and preschoolers.
18) Make a hopscotch game with chalk. Hopscotch is a game many kids love, and it also helps them develop their big muscles group.
19) Any activities that encourage your child to throw, catch, hit or kick an object such as a ball will help them use up their energy and develop their gross motor skills.
20) Spider web activities are great for getting your child to move their bodies in all sorts of ways. Simply make a path with string and have your kids navigate the path without touching the string.
21) If you have stairs, place different-colored stickers on each step and have your kid throw bean bags on the stairs. Make each color represent a certain number of points (for example, higher points for the stairs furthest away or those hardest to reach) and see how well your child does when the activity is over.
22) Gardening activities such as pulling weeds, watering, using gardening tools and so on help develop your child’s arm strength.
22 Indoor Gross Motor Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers
1) Trace lines using duct tape on your floor and let your child jump in between the gaps from one line to another. As they get better, place the tape further apart. Remember to choose tape that doesn’t ruin your floor.
2) Place stickers on the wall and ask your child to touch them to see how far they can reach.
3) Cut out large paper circles and place them on the floor then encourage your child to move from circle to the other (by jumping, stepping, hopping like a frog, etc.).
4) Encourage your child to do yoga poses. The ThinkFun Yoga Spinner Yoga Game is a fun way to get your child to practice different yoga poses.
5) Hula hoops are effective tools for developing your child’s posture, flexibility and balance.
6) Blow up a balloon and time your child to see how long they can keep it from touching the floor.
7) Put on music and dance! Even better, put on music that requires your child to make specific actions (clap their hands, stamp their feet, turn around, etc.).
8) What kid doesn’t like musical chairs? And it turns out that it is also a great activity for promoting the development of their gross motor skills.
9) Indoor obstacle races are a great rainy day activity, and they are also great for your child’s development.
10) The Floor is Lava is a classic game that will force your child to work on their large muscles group.
11) Most kids enjoy Simon Says, and you can easily transform it into a gross motor skill activity by asking your child to perform physical activities every time “Simon” says something: Lift one leg and hold still to a count of five, grab your ankle and count to five, hop like a frog, walk on four feet, slither like a snake, jog or run in place etc.
12) Play crumpled paper toss. Get old newspapers, crumple them and see who will win tossing the crumpled papers into a basket.
13) Red light Green light is a great game for teaching your child all about balance.
14) Have your child create a choreography dance and teach it to someone else.
15) An indoor hopscotch game is an activity that kids love and one that is easy to make: You can either cut out squares from cardboard and lay them on the floor, or use duct tape to make an indoor hopscotch. Hopscotch is great for teaching your child about balance.
16) Ask your child to walk like different animals: slither like a snake, hop like a kangaroo, stretch like a cat, etc.
17) Your child will enjoy wheelbarrow walking: let someone hold their legs and ask them to walk on their hands. To make the activity more interesting, set up a specific route through which they must pass and include obstacles to make them burn up even more energy!
18) Using duct tape to trace lines on the floor and asking your child to walk along the line will help with their balance. Make the game more challenging by asking your child to walk along the line while carrying a bulky object.
19) Ask your child to place a small ball between their knees and then make different moves (for example jump forwards, sideways, etc.) without dropping it. You can also play Simon Says with the additional instruction to “not drop the ball”.
20) Your kids already probably do blanket rides: taking someone on a ride across the floor helps them strengthen their gross motor skills.
21) Put on an age-appropriate fitness or dance video and let your child work out.
22) Fitness classes such as yoga, dance and gymnastics are great for managing your child’s high energy levels and they also help them strengthen their muscles.
The best toys for improving children’s gross motor skills
All toys that promote physical activity and encourage your child to use their arms, legs and core muscles are great for developing their gross motor skills. The best toys promote movement, balance, coordination and object control. Here are 9 examples of toys that can help strengthen your child’s large muscles group.
- Pop and catch games
Pop and catch games are not only great for developing your child’s gross motor skills, they also help them improve their focus and concentration skills. Your child is expected to focus on a specific object, usually a ball, and to catch it before it touches the ground.
2) Target games
Target games in which your child is expected to touch a specific target are great at helping strengthen their arm muscles and their balance. These games are also great for developing their fine motor skills. Good examples are tossing games, such as the Prextex Carnival Combo Set, and you can keep the activity interesting for your child by increasing the distance from which they should send the rings toward the target.
3) A bilibo
A bilibo is a resistant, open-ended toy that is great for developing your child’s gross motor skills. Your child can play with it in so many ways – climbing, spinning, drumming – from age two.
4) Climbing activities
Kids love climbing activities, and these activities are very effective in helping them develop their gross motor skills. Activities that involve toys such as monkey bars and pikler triangles encourage your child to twist, practice balancing themselves on one or both arms, help them learn to support their weight, practice swinging and so on. Take advantage of the monkey bars in playgrounds near you or get your child a climbing triangle that they can use both indoors and outdoors. If you are looking for an outdoor climbing toy that is weather- and rust-resistant, you won’t regret getting this one.
5) A trampoline
A trampoline can help boost your child’s gross motor skills and it is an activity most kids enjoy. It helps teach your child about balance and spatial awareness and strengthens their bones and muscle development. The good news is that you can get either outdoor or indoor trampolines to ensure that your child gets to keep active no matter the weather.
Tunnels require your child to crawl on all fours and to practice their balance. They encourage them to move in ways other than what they are generally accustomed to, meaning that they are great for boosting their gross motor skills.
7) A balance bike
A balance bike is a bike that your child can ride like a regular bike, only that is has no pedals. These bikes are great at teaching your child about balance, weight control and coordination. A scooter is another option that is great at teaching your child about balance.
There are so many gross motor activities that you child can do with steppingstones. They can help them practice taking strides, work on their balance and perfect their coordination. When choosing steppingstones for your child, privilege stones with different forms and non-slip surfaces like these ones. Steppingstones come with an additional advantage: your child can use them in any way that they can imagine, meaning that they are great at promoting open-ended play.
9) Bouncing toys
Bouncing toys are great for building your child’s muscles, and there are many different types of designs to choose from.
When should you worry about the development of your child’s gross motor skills?
Although children with developmental delays may appear to struggle to reach gross motor milestones, most of them eventually catch up and are able to perform tasks and activities that require them to use their large muscles group. However, your child’s gross motor skill development may be impaired for a number of reasons including genetic disorders, cerebral palsy, specific neurological conditions, injuries or illness, and so on.
Impaired gross motor skills may be reflected in behavior such as:
- Difficult, slow or awkward movements
- Severe clumsiness
- Difficulty with activities that require balance, for example riding a bike
- Difficulty with activities that require your child to use their large muscles group (catching, throwing, kicking a ball, etc.)
- Regularly dropping objects,
If you are worried about the development of your child’s gross motor skills, please see a professional familiar with motor skill delays. They will probably assess your child using the Lincoln-Oseretsky Motor Development Scale, which is one of the most common tools used to assess the gross motor skills of children between the ages of six and 14. It allows professionals to assess gross motor skills such as the ability to walk backwards, jump over a rope, catch or throw a ball, jump and clap, and so on.
The good news is that even if your child has difficulty developing their gross motor skills, specific physical exercises can help them overcome some of these difficulties and teach them to compensate for others.
Although very few children suffer from impaired gross motor skills, please follow your instincts if you think that your child has a developmental delay. Even talking with your pediatrician will offer you invaluable peace of mind.