Gross Motor Skills

Parents and teachers often say “practice makes perfect”. With fine motor skills and handwriting, it is not always the case when there is an underlying gross motor difficulty or delay. Many children work tirelessly to practice these tedious and precise fine motor skills. However they don’t have the base strength to maintain body posture or muscle endurance to complete these tasks. Fine motor tasks such as holding a pencil, writing, cutting, beading and picking up small objects require large muscles of the body for postural support and control. If a child has weak muscles, they will struggle with fine motor tasks as well as gross motor tasks.

Gross motor skills involve the large muscles of the body such as the arms and legs for running, skipping, jumping and ball skills. These larger movements are crucial for everyday skills like dressing (where you need to be able to stand on one leg to put your leg into a pant leg without falling over) and climbing into and out of a car or even getting into and out of bed.

Gross motor skills also impact a child’s ability to maintain endurance to cope with a full day at school, for example sitting upright at a desk, moving between classrooms and carrying a school bag. Gross motor skills impact a child’s ability to navigate the environment such as walking around objects and furniture at home and in the classroom or up a sloped hill. Without developed gross motor skills, a child will struggle with many day to day tasks such as a eating, packing away their toys, and getting onto and off the toilet.

Some of the frequent signs of poorly developed gross motor skills in children that parents may notice are:

  • Delayed developmental milestones such as being able to crawl, walk, run or sit up independently
  • Avoiding playing games or other physical tasks
  • Poor endurance when engaging in sports or physical tasks
  • Poor posture when sitting at a table (e.g. slouching)
  • Struggling to perform physical activities or movements, particularly those involving sequences (e.g. obstacle course)
  • Clumsy or graceless movements which may lead to increased accidents

Occupational Therapists at Building Blocks are very passionate about ensuring a child has developed gross motor skills to participate in everyday activities as independently as possible. We also ensure that a delay in gross motor skills or poorly developed gross motor skills do not go misdiagnosed. We are excited to share some of our favourite activities for promoting a child’s gross motor skills.

  • Animal walks: these work on developing a child’s muscle strength, endurance, balance, coordination and body awareness in a fun way! (e.g., bear walk on hands and feet, frog jump with hands on ground and jump forward, puppy walk on hands and knees, lizard crawl on tummy, etc.)
  • Working on vertical surfaces: to develop upper body strength and endurance (e.g., paper, chalk/whiteboards, reversed contact/sticky paper, magnets, stickers, stamps, paint, etc.)
  • Water painting: on fences or wash windows, tables, cars, or other large items.
  • Mini dance party: turn on some upbeat muscle and have fun bopping, twirling, clapping and singing.
  • Simon Says: to develop body awareness, coordination, strength, balance, stability and movement planning. These include side stepping, hopping, marching, jumping on one foot, crawling, crab walking, galloping and backwards walking.
  • Hula hoop games: to develop core strength, motor planning, and increasing body awareness. Some games include moving the hula hoop around the waist, hula hoop hop scotch and hula hoop racing (your child can have races to try and outrun a rolling hula hoop).
  • Wheelbarrow walking: fantastic to build core upper extremity strength. Holding at the hips is the easiest position and ankles is the hardest.
  • Going on swings at the park or climbing suspended ladders and jungle gyms. When swings move in unexpected ways it forces the trunk muscles to work harder.
  • Monkey bars: great for development of hand strength, upper body strength and endurance.
  • Swimming: your child will need to work against resistance in the water and this provides better awareness of where their body is in space.
  • Tummy lying while doing puzzles and craft: promote neck and core strength.
  • Ball games: to increase balance, muscle strength, motor planning and hand eye coordination. Some examples are playing hot potato (can’t hold the ball for more than 3 seconds), passing the ball in a line and passing the ball over head and between legs.
  • Obstacle course: provide fantastic opportunities for your child to gain multiple skills including strength and balance, motor planning, bilateral coordination and sequencing and memory. You can set up different items and scatter them around a room for your child to explore. You can include pillows to walk on, chairs to climb over or under, cardboard boxes to crawl through like a tunnel, bean bags to throw or carry, hula hoops to jump from one to another, piece of wood or piece of tape on the floor for your child to balance along.
If you would like to seek an assessment of your child’s gross motor skills, please consult an Occupational Therapist at Building Blocks Therapy.

Building Blocks Therapy offers a range of resources online for gross motor skills which you can view and buy - click here to find out more!

Olivia De Lorenzo
  Occupational Therapist

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