With the advent of technology, sadly even babies and toddlers are regularly “plonked” in front of a TV or tablet to keep them occupied and “entertained”. It is critically important for our children, that we as parents make every effort to rather encourage movement and with it, comes the development of gross motor skills. Gross motor skills have to do with the movement and coordination of the arms, legs, and other large body parts, where they are involved in motor action such as running, crawling, swimming and so on. They are big, controlled movements made at will, using large muscle groups as well as the whole body. In contrast to gross motor skills, where the large parts of the body are involved, fine motor skills develop through smaller movements in the wrists, hands and fingers, as well as the feet and toes.
Gross motor skills are abilities that are usually acquired during infancy and early childhood. They are skills that develop in a head-to-toe order, where children will typically learn head control, trunk stability, and then standing up and walking. Most children, at two years old, are able to stand up, walk and run, climb stairs, and these “skills” are developed and strengthened throughout early childhood.
As with many other activities, gross motor skills require postural control. Infants need to control their heads to stabilize their gaze and to track moving objects. They also must have strength and balance in their legs in order to learn to walk.
Walking upright requires the ability to stand up and shift the balance of the body’s position from one foot to the other. Most infants usually learn to walk around the time of their first birthday. Gross motor skills generally develop from the center of the body outwards, first at the head. Babies need practice in space and time: At first they are only able to lie face down on the floor but around two months they have gained enough muscle strength to raise their head and chest off the ground. As they kick and bend their legs their bodies are being prepared for crawling.
Toddlers’ motor activity is much more skilled and mobile, and will no longer be content in a playpen but want to move all over the place. This mobility and spatial freedom in the second year are vital to a child’s development and that he must be allowed to move about unhampered, except for safety precautions. Between 13 and 18 months, toddlers can move up and down steps and carry toys (but cannot get back down). Their movement is also becoming much smoother. By 18 to 24 months, they can move quicker over short distances, as well as walk backwards and in circles and begin to run. They are now able to hold onto the handrail to walk up some stairs. Near the end of their second year, complex gross motor skills begin to develop including throwing and kicking. Their skills become more natural. Pedaling a tricycle and jumping in place is acquired. At the end they are very mobile and can go from place to place. It is normal for them to get themselves into small situations that could be dangerous, so parents and minders need to stay alert around them.
The pre-schooler does not need any help standing alone or moving quickly. At 3 years of age, children enjoy simple movements, such as hopping, jumping, and running back and forth . At the pre-school age children develop more goal-directed behaviors, since their learning comes largely from play and physical activity. At 4, children are honing their motor acquired motor skills, and by age 5 are becoming adventurous. During middle and late childhood, children’s motor action becomes more coordinated and smoother. They have more control over their bodies and an increased attention span.
Some Fun Ideas to Promotote Gross Motor Skills Development
Hopping and jumping is great for kids with “beans” after lessons. These activities require strong muscles, balance and coordination. Give your child lots of practice. Change the hopscotch pattern so he fine-tunes his sense of balance by hopping on two legs, then one. Don’t let cold or wet outside deter you: create an indoor hopscotch game with masking tape.
Break out the bubbles (or balloons).
Have your child chase bubbles and try to pop as many as possible. Or blow up small balloons and ask him to keep them afloat by bouncing them with his open palm. Either game gives a child great practice for hand-eye coordination as well as gross motor skills.
Roll down a hill.
Take your child to a gently sloping hill and practice rolling down. Body rolling will help him become aware of the relationship between his upper and lower body.
Discovering what the body can do is exciting. Fire up your child’s imagination and movement through pretend games. Ask him to jump like a frog, waddle like a duck, fly like a plane or hop like a rabbit. Or he can pretend to be something, and you have to guess what he is.
Set up an indoor obstacle course.
Obstacle courses are a great way to get your child moving in all sorts of ways – to balance, crawl, jump and run. Use furniture, pillows and blankets to create areas he’ll need to crawl on, under and through. Try to set up obstacles that are a challenge!
I feel like dancing, dancing – yeah!
Dancing to music helps build your child’s awareness of rhythm. Music is an excellent tool for developing spatial awareness, as well as sensitivity to rhythm and sequences, while it improves his gross motor skills. Songs with lyrics that call for movement, such as “I’m a Little Teapot” or “The Hokey Pokey,” are also great ways to get his body moving in coordinated ways.
Swings and roundabouts.
Swinging on a swing set helps your child develop balance. It also requires him to coordinate shifting weight and moving his legs back and forth. Other ways to develop gross motor skills on the playground include going up and down on a slide, balancing on the roundabout and climbing up equipment.
Try easy balancing acts.
Practise balancing by staying on the ground. Extend a piece of string or tape in a straight line on the floor and have your child practice walking on it. Or create a backyard balance beam with some long cuts of wood laid out on the lawn.