Late-autumn is upon us, however, the cooler weather doesn’t mean your children are out of fun things to do outdoors. Gross motor skills are important for kids to improve upon, no matter their age or activity level. These skills require engagement of the child’s big muscle groups to improve balance, coordination, and posture. In pre-school age kids, working on gross motor skills builds body awareness, helps them keep up with peers and perform better in school, and motivates them to engage more with others. Below are some simple activities you can do with your children this season that will give them the opportunity to build their muscles and confidence-minimal equipment needed.
By dance, I don’t mean reviving your ball-room dancing days or enrolling the kids in ballet (though both are great routes to take). What I mean is simple…be silly with your kids. Put on their favorite song and make up the moves as you go. There is a reason songs such as Hokey Pokey stayed so popular with toddlers and teachers for so long: they make it fun for kids to learn how their limbs work and how to engage their trunk. Tapping their feet to the beat works on coordination, shifting their weight works on their balance, and wiggling their hips works on their obliques and other parts of their core muscle groups. Teach your child to skip around the room and she will learn to synchronize her opposite sides and build on her total body coordination. Learning to dance with a partner and imitating big movements will help your child tune into working with others, following directions, and use your child’s large muscles in a not so tiring way.
Red Light-Green Light
Remember this game when we were kids? All you need is a large space and a few runners. One person is designated the “stoplight” and when he or she says “green light,” everyone else runs as fast as they can to the finish line. When the “stoplight” says “red light,” everyone stops moving immediately. Whoever is the slowest to stop moving will be out. The game keeps going until everyone is out or someone makes it to the finish line. An alternative would be to have the last person to stop become the stoplight. What is great about this game is that it works on running as well as running agility. You can make the task harder by adding obstacles, using uneven surfaces (grass vs. dirt vs. leaves), adding ankle weights, or while holding objects.
Make up the rules as you go. Kids are great with this. An obstacle course can take place in a backyard or a living room. Pile the leaves together and have your family jump on, walk over, or crawl through them. Unstable surfaces challenge our balance and help strengthen our postural muscles. The same concept goes for building forts to army-crawl through and using cushions as stepping stones. Invent a game at a pumpkin patch like running/weaving through pumpkins, jumping over vines, picking up little pumpkins, or pushing/pulling a wagon loaded with logs. Have your child help you build each obstacle. Not only will it make him feel in charge, it’ll be more fun for everyone.
Take an impromptu trip to the zoo with your little one, and take note of all the animals you both can pretend to be. Act out your own little zoo in your yard or in your living room. Pretend to be a squirrel and work on climbing up and down the tree (stairs); find a 3-4 inch wide curb, line, or ledge, and walk like a mountain goat (with one foot in front of the other); put your hands and feet on the floor, walk with your body shaped like an upside down V, and you can be a bear family looking for food. Squat really low on the ground and jump up to reach high in the air like a frog. Hop from room to room like a kangaroo. With your belly toward the sky, push up into a bridge position from sitting on the ground and walk around on your hands and feet like a crab. You are only limited by your imagination. Just like for the obstacle course, let your child choose what animal she wants to be and how that animal walks.
These are just a few ideas for gross motor activities you can do with your kids this season, but there are lots more. If you need to boost your imagination, think back to some of the fun things you did as a child: games such as hula hoop, jump rope, hop scotch, and playing with a ball.
To make sure your child is on track with his or her gross-motor development, click here to download our gross-motor milestone checklist.
Let us know in the comments if you have fun games that are a big hit with your little one, and always remember: be active and have fun!