The term gross motor skills refers to the development and strengthening of the muscles in the body. When babies are born, they are as limp as tiny rag dolls. We watch with amazement as they gradually accomplish holding up their heads, raising up on their arms, turning over and eventually crawling. All too soon a year has passed and the baby has transformed into an active toddler who needs space to grow and opportunities to develop gross motor skills even further.
You can assist toddlers in this endeavor by making available to them the equipment and activities necessary to help them become sturdy, physically agile children.
What you might interpret as “child’s play” is actually the method of learning in the preschooler’s stage of development. Running, jumping, hopping, skipping, throwing and bouncing are all activities that come natural to a child and also enhance his gross motor development.
Many childhood games are designed for this very purpose. Think about the games of “Simon Says,” “Red Rover” and “Hide and Seek.” These are simple, active games in which a preschooler can understand and participate. They not only contribute to improving motor skills, but the group activity will also serve to enhance the child’s social skills.
Playing with large balls, over-sized blocks, scooters and tricycles will all be beneficial to the child’s developing muscles. Outdoor equipment like jungle gyms, swing sets and see-saws are valuable tools to a preschooler.
To truly encourage the development of gross motor skills at the appropriate stage, the child needs more than access to free play. Here are a few other things the parent can do to help:
Go for walks with the child. Help him onto a small wall and hold his hand while he walks the distance for balance. Do role reversal and have him push you on the swing in the park. At home, put on some lively music and dance with your child. All of the exercise you would normally do for yourself can be modified to a child’s level and enjoyed together.
There are many games available that are designed to enhance development of motor skills. Indoors there is the game of “Twister” and play bowling sets. Outdoors, you and your child can play hop scotch, jump rope, wheelbarrow walking or myriad other variations of play and exercise.
As you go about the chores of the day, include the preschooler. Sorting laundry, dusting, gardening and putting away groceries all involve bending, stretching and squatting. The child will have a healthy dose of motor skill improvement and an added boost to his self-esteem for being a “big helper.”
By acting out the characters in familiar nursery rhymes, or playing imaginary superhero the child will stir his imagination as he increases his agility. Playing, “What animal are you?’ is another way to get the child moving. He will growl, crawl, pounce and leap his way to a strong, healthy body.
Be sure the child has playmates available to him. If there are no siblings, arrange play dates, take him to McDonald’s or Chucky Cheese. Social interaction and motor skill development go hand in hand for a preschooler.
The ways to help a child develop gross motor skills in a timely manner are only limited by your imagination. Play, dance, make believe with your child and not only will he increase his muscle function, he will also have fond memories of a happy and enchanted childhood.