Mastering motor control is an important part of your child’s growing independence as well as their physical, social, and cognitive development. Motor skills are properly developed when the muscles, bones, and nerves coordinate to make movement. While these skills typically come naturally for many children through exploration and play, some children need a little more attention in some areas of motor control.
There are two main kinds of motor skills: gross motor skills and fine motor skills.
Gross motor control is the ability to use large muscle groups to make movements. In infants, gross motor development can be seen as they learn to lift their head, roll over, sit up, and eventually crawl and walk. As toddlers and preschoolers begin to practice balancing, climbing, and jumping, they are further developing their gross motor skills. These are larger movements that come before the development of fine motor skills.
Smaller movements are a part of fine motor control. As your infant or toddler begins to pick up smaller objects like blocks or cheerios with their thumb and index finger, they will strengthen their pincer grasp, which is an important fine motor skill. This will eventually lead to more complex movements like coloring, cutting with safety scissors, and eventually writing as they enter preschool and kindergarten.
If your child is in need of some practice with gross motor skills, fine motor skills, or both, there are plenty of fun activities you can do with them that will strengthen their muscles and improve coordination.
Activities for Gross Motor Skills
There is no better time than play time for working on gross motor skills. If you can get outside and get some fresh air, even better. The playground is a great place to work on climbing, balancing, and strengthening muscles. Take your child out for a bike or trike ride, play hopscotch in the driveway, jump rope or have a race in the backyard. Sports are also a great way to develop gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination. If your child is younger or just not into sports, they may enjoy setting up a target or basket to hit with a ball or bean bag.
If the weather is keeping you indoors, there are still plenty of opportunities for gross motor development. Try setting up an obstacle course inside with couch cushions, pillows, baskets, or anything else that may encourage your child to climb, balance, and hop. Your child may enjoy yoga or dancing with a fun twist, like doing animal motions or playing the “freeze dance” song. Let them take their stuffed animals for a ride in a laundry basket to work on pushing and pulling skills. If you have an infant, make sure they aren’t spending too much time in seats and that they have a safe place to play and explore on their own, like a baby floor gym.
Activities for Fine Motor Skills
Arts and crafts are a great way to get your child practicing their fine motor skills. Toddlers and older children will benefit from coloring with crayons or chalk and playing with sand or playdough. You only need flour and vegetable oil to make moon sand or cloud dough, which your child can scoop, pour, and mold into fun shapes. Make sure to incorporate tools like plastic cookie cutters, child-safe plastic knives, and even straws to help strengthen their pincer grasp and control. Activity sheets with mazes, connect the dots, or tracing are helpful as well.
Try using games and activities that require picking up small objects for older children that need to work on building the muscles in their hands. Have your child paint an egg carton with different colors and then sort items such as beads or pom poms to match each color. Tweezers or clothespins can also be used to pick up the objects for an extra challenge. Your child may also enjoy making their own bracelet or charm by threading beads onto a pipe cleaner.
Getting creative with food can be a fun way to encourage fine motor skills as well. Older children can have fun using toothpicks and marshmallows to build sculptures or towers while improving their ability to make more precise movements. Another simple craft even toddlers can participate in is to make a birdfeeder with cheerios and pipe cleaners. Have them thread cheerios onto a pipe cleaner and bend it into any shape they want, then hang their creation on a tree or bush.
Build skills with fun and creative activities that spark imagination and elicit enthusiasm.
“Fine Motor Control: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002364.htm.
“Gross Motor Control: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002368.htm.
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.