Do you ever notice awkward movement in your child? Does he have difficulty going through obstacles in the playground or even around the house? Does she have difficulty copying simple dance steps? It must be a problem with Gross motor skills or GMS.
Gross motor skills are movements produced by the large muscles of our body. When they work together to produce more complex movements, it is more aptly called gross motor coordination.
Large muscles and large movements are best practiced outdoors where your child could move freely in the large space. In the current quarantine situation, worry not, for there are still ways to address these movement needs at home.
Improving Gross Motor Skills on the Bed:
Versatile for naps, the bed is popular for very small babies! At 4 months, their head should be at midline and held when you pull them to sit. Put them on their bellies and they should be able to lift their head and chest. They can also roll from their belly to their backs. So a lot of bed activities will suffice for these cutesies!
At around 7 months, they start to sit with back support or they may figure out how to lean on their arms to support themselves. Lying down, they also begin to roll both ways! Put toys around the bed or crib so he gets to explore a new one when he crawls on both sides. At this age, padding your walls and mounting fences around the bed is important to prevent them from injuries or falling from rolling.
They begin to stand and cruise (walk around while holding onto something) at around 10 months so make sure he has something to hold onto to support himself. Later, they also get better at sitting. They may scoot or pivot. You might be thinking they’re beginning to outgrow the fence you built for them. Yes! So get them out of the crib and pad the whole room!
At 2 years old, they will see the bed in a whole new light! It will be for sleeping at night but a trampoline by day! You can let them try jumping on the bed after they have learned jumping on a level ground (floor) first. If you don’t feel confident letting them jump on the bed, a pillow on the floor might also do the trick.
Moving the dinner or coffee table to the side might be a good idea for a larger space with the family if there is no available room. It will be worth it to watch your kid have fun with the space this quarantine.
If you have a 1-year-old walker, installing mat might still be beneficial to prevent bumps when he falls. Move your breakables and “swallowables” (small objects that may fit in his mouth) as he might reach for those when he goes around the house.
This is still true for 2-year-old runners and jumpers. Make sure toys are kept to the side so he won’t trip while practicing to sprint and lift feet off the ground.
3-year-old trikers (they start to learn to pedal a tricycle), 4-year-old hoppers (to hop is to jump on one foot) and 5-year-old skippers (skipping is a combination of stepping and hopping) will still have tons of fun in the open space. Put cones or empty jars to a maze; rings or small stacks of books for hurdles; or lines to follow even for tip-toers at this age.
If you notice that pedaling is hard for them, isolate the movement and create a task where they would have to march, or kick alternately. You can also lie on the floor and do air bicycles! Better yet, use garter to kick with each foot while lying or sitting on a chair.
Some kids find hopping hard as well. Again, break the movement down to smaller chunks and let your kid practice one step at a time. Have her practice standing on one foot (dominant side on the floor first) for 3, 7, 10 seconds. Allow him to hop while holding onto something until the muscles of his leg are confident to do it on its own.
Improve Gross Motor Skills, Use Steps and stairs:
One of the most exciting gross motor skills milestone is stair climbing.
The stairs in the house may still be too big and steep for our toddler-creepers or the 3-year-olds who are starting to walk up stairs, so improvise by stacking books or using stools for the little ones to learn this essential skills. Make sure that the books or stools are stabilized and that you also mount something for them to hold onto so they will learn independence and confidence when they try it. At 4 years, they also learn how to go down on their own.
When they get big enough, have them try stepping up chair or the stairs itself on their own while closely standing by for safety, until such time that you are confident they can safely do it by themselves.
If your child has difficulty with the above activities, all they need is to practice doing them again and again until they master how to do it. If, however, your child can do all of these but you notice some level of difficulty or awkward movements, then, their problem is more of coordination. For any motor activity, practice is still the key. Level things up by mixing and matching, plus adding more enjoyable tasks so your little one gets to have fun while developing her large muscles and also gaining confidence doing it.
Like parkour, or an episode of the American Ninja Warrior, it is easy to setup an obstacle course for your child. Mind the skills per age as listed above so you know that you are expecting age-appropriate ones from your child. Be creative and line up movements for your child to go through. Example:
3 mats for jumping –> open space for rolling –> tunnel or tent-blanket for crawling –> steps for climbing –> repeat (you may add something that they can complete for a sense of achievement such as puzzles or lego pieces, or just a flag to put or a buzzer to press)
Games such as the hopscotch is good medium so kids are more motivated to hop and jump. Following rules and a sense of healthy competition are also added perks.
Improve Gross Motor Skills by Dancing:
Bring YouTube to your advantage. Download kids dance tutorials to the song that your child likes and learn the dance together. I say together, so you can better explain and assist how to create the dance steps with him. Try channels, such as, Zumba Kids and Just Dance for bigger kids. Nursery rhymes are good for babies and younger kids.
There are simple yoga positions that your child can copy. The tree pose or the downward dog pose are basic poses any 5-year-old can do. Have him copy it and freeze for 3 seconds initially or as he can tolerate. Yoga is a mindfulness activity which promotes calm. If your child likes it then you’re hitting 2 birds in one stone. Search “Yoga for Kids” in Google or YouTube and you’re good to go.
Tap your child’s creativity and let him think about how to mimic an animal. But before you click here, have your child figure an animal walk out first and then making him choose which one he likes better. An example is the elephant walk where one must stomp his feet heavily as he walks with one arm waving in front of his face to represent the trunk.
Relay races and sports:
Why not try a sack race to challenge his jumping skills? Or try out ball games such as shooting, volleying or kicking balls? Add another tool such as a bat or racket, whichever your child enjoys. He learns to mix gross and fine motor skills, as well as, following the rules you set for him while playing these games. Other sports such as gymnastics or martial arts are available online for trials, nowadays, if your child is interested. Make sure to get professional help when engaging in these at home.
On the other hand, if you have concerns with how your child uses their small muscles — of their hands, check this out. Done with gross motor skills? Then, you can move to fine motor skills.
Molnar, Gabriella E. (1992) Pediatric Rehabilitation, Second Edition. Baltimore, MR: p. cm.