Toddlers learn many things in a short period of time. Some of these movements are very detailed and require fine motor skills, while others require larger movements, and rely on gross motor skills. As a parent or a teacher, you can enhance gross motor skills with certain activities. Proficiency in these skills helps a child to develop a love for movement, which can lessen their chances for weight-related health concerns such as diabetes, heart diseases and strokes.
What are Gross Motor Skills?
Baby Center defines gross motor skills as big movements performed when the brain, nervous system and muscles of the arms, legs, torso and feet work together. For babies, these are things such as rolling over and sitting up. For toddlers, gross motor skills include walking, running, jumping and riding push toys in which they have to push their feet into the ground to move.
Gross Motor Skills Development
As your child grows, your pediatrician will ask you questions about their fine and gross motor skills development. According to the American Council on Exercise, your child should be able to perform more several physical activities as he or she grows up:
- At 2 months, your baby should be able to lay on his/her stomach and lift his/her head and/or chest.
- At 4 months, your child should be able to support his/her face down position on his elbows and he/she should be rolling from his back to his belly.
- At 6 months, encourage your child to roll, sit and begin to reach for objects placed on a mat just out of his/her reach.
- At 9 months, look for signs of crawling and the ability to move an object from hand to hand.
- At 12 months, your infant should stand and show beginning signs of walking.
- At 15 months, your child should begin to walk backward.
- AT 18 months, your child can walk on his/her own and climb steps with your hand for balance.
- At 24 months, encourage your child to jump and ride a toy without pedals.
- At 3 years, look for gross motor skills such as pedaling a tricycle and climbing on and off furniture.
- At 4 years, your child should enjoy running, kicking, throwing, swimming and other activities that combine movements.
- At 5 years, look for signs that your child is ready for sport play and riding a bicycle with training wheels. This is also the age where skipping begins.
As a teacher or a parent, you see the child every day and can easily see when the gross motor skills development begins. It is an exciting time to watch a toddler progress from walking to running, which requires much more balance, coordination and muscular strength. You are also in a position to provide activities that will continue his or her development. The more confident a child is at each stage of progression, the more comfortable he or she is to move on to the next level.
Gross motor skills are a significant part of learning and should be taken as seriously as potty-training, reading and writing. Your child becomes aware of how his body moves through space, which reduces clumsiness and encourages physical activity. A physically active child is a healthy child and hopefully, his love of movement will continue throughout adulthood.
Activities that Enhance Gross Motor Skills
You can encourage gross motor skills development at every growth stage. Provide time for your child to practice his or her skills and include these specific exercises to strengthen muscles and encourage movement:
- At 2 months, place your child on his/her tummy for short amounts of time- aim for a total of an hour each day. Be sure to supervise your baby.
- At 4 months, continue to encourage floor time, especially on a play-mat that will invite him/her to move and reach for toys.
- At 6 months, set aside at least an hour to encourage your child to roll and sit. Get down on the floor with him/her and have fun!
- At 9 months, set objects slightly out of his/her reach to encourage crawling.
- At 12 months, go outside for short walks. Aim to do this a few times a day.
- At 15 months, give him opportunities to show off his skills to grandma, grandpa or friends. Provide encourage and positive reinforcement such as hugs, kisses and claps.
- At 18 months, clear your home of any objects that may interfere with his/her running such as a sharp coffee table.
- At 24 months, allow at least an hour of play time in which your child can use his/her new skills.
- At 3 years, consider purchasing a tricycle or signing up your child for tumbling classes.
- At 4 years, introduce your child to swimming by taking him/her to a pool, or signing him up for swim classes. Also, purchase a variety of balls to teach ball games such as throwing, kicking and hitting.
- At 5 years, purchase a bicycle and provide at least an hour a day of time devoted for physical activity. This is also a great age to sign him/her up for recreation sports such as soccer, T-ball or basketball.
- Play Simon Says in which your child does what you do. Present movements such as jumping, standing on one leg, crawling, and skipping. Also, include actions that cross the mid-line of the body, such as touching your left shoulder with your right hand.
- Teach your child to play hop scotch which requires hopping on one foot and then two, plus reaching down and balancing to pick up a stone.
- You can also encourage gross motor skills development by taking your child to a local playground so he/she can climb, jump, swing, balance, crawl and slide to improve his/her large muscles.
- Set up an obstacle course at home, indoors on a rainy day. You can place broomsticks between two chairs and ask him/her to crawl under, or step over; place cones or toys on the floor for him/her to weave in and out; take the couch cushions and set them on the floor to create an uneven walking surface; or invest in hula hoops or jump ropes to teach him new skills.
- Show him/her how to do a wheelbarrow race. Place his/her hands on the floor and you hold onto his/her feet. Walk forward slowly, so he/she has to support his/her weight on his/her “walking” hands.
- Include your child in household chores that require gross motor skills such as vacuuming, dusting, and folding clothes.
The time you spend teaching your child the importance of large movements and activity will not be wasted. These are life-long skills you are instilling in your child and ones he will be thankful for. He/she can use this skills to play high school sports, compete in triathlons, or purely for hobby and enjoyment sake.
The memories you make being active with your child will last a lifetime too. After all, you are spending worthwhile, indispensable quality time, whether you are a parent or a teacher.