Gross motor skills are an important part of your child’s development. Some children need a little extra practice—sometimes by working with an occupational therapist—to improve their ability to move the large muscle groups in their body.
Most parents worry about their child’s development from time to time. If your child appears uncoordinated or struggles with movement, it can be troubling.
They may have difficulty with physical activities like jumping, skipping, or catching a ball. Some children may even avoid activities if they fear it will be too difficult.
What Are Gross Motor Skills?
Gross motor skills involve using the large muscle groups in your body. Moving your arms, legs, and torso effectively are signs of gross motor control. Some of these skills that infants develop in their first year or so include sitting up, crawling, and eventually walking. As your child gets older, they will continue to work on things like skipping, climbing, or throwing a ball.
Gross motor skills are the foundation for fine motor development. Mastering motor control will help your child become more independent at home and successful in school.
Gross motor skills include:
- Jumping, hopping, and skipping
- Throwing or kicking a ball
Signs of A Problem
For many children, motor control comes naturally and easily as they get older. Other children may need a little extra help working on their strength, balance, and coordination if they are struggling to meet milestones.
If you have a 4 or 5 year old, gross motor skills to look for include:
- Hopping on one foot
- Catching a ball
- Pedaling a bike
- Running, jumping, and climbing
- Learning to swim
Keep in mind that children develop at different rates. Your child might not have all of these skills mastered by the time they are 5. However, if they don’t seem to be making any progress with their gross motor skills, there could be a problem.
If your child persistently struggles with gross motor skills, developmental coordination disorder (DCD) could be the cause. Sometimes referred to as dyspraxia, DCD can affect motor development at an early age. Intervention with an occupational therapist can help improve your child’s motor development.
Signs of DCD can include difficulty with:
- Running, hopping, or jumping
- Kicking, throwing, or catching a ball
- Using stairs
- Writing and drawing
- Using scissors
- Getting dressed
Struggling with gross motor skills can negatively impact your child academically, socially, and emotionally. They may avoid participating in activities if they feel they can’t keep up with their peers. This can lead to low-self esteem for some children.
Of course, some children may struggle with certain gross motor skills without having DCD. If your child is otherwise developing normally, they may just need some additional help working on these skills.
Occupational Therapy For Gross Motor Skills
Children with dyspraxia or developmental delays affecting their gross motor skills benefit from occupational therapy. Occupational therapists often work with children on improving fine motor skills, but they can help with gross motor skills as well. Working with an occupational therapist can help improve strength, coordination, and balance which is necessary for gross motor development.
An occupational therapist may work with your child on:
1. Building strength.
For children working on their gross motor development, therapists may introduce exercises that help build strength. These will focus on strengthening the large muscle groups (core, arms, and legs).
2. Improving stamina.
Your child’s occupational therapist will likely gradually increase the duration of time your child works on an activity to improve stamina.
3. Balance and coordination.
Children with dyspraxia often appear clumsy or uncoordinated. Working with an occupational therapist can help your child improve balance and coordinate movements efficiently.
4. Praxis and movement planning.
While movement comes naturally to many children, others may need to work on planning movements in advance to improve motor control. An occupational therapist can work with your child on planning and executing movements.
Gross Motor Activities for Home
Occupational therapy can greatly improve gross motor skills in children, but there are also plenty of fun activities you can do at home. Keep things relaxed, and your child won’t even know that they are working on new skills that will help them become more independent.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Play hopscotch.
Hopscotch is great for working on balance, jumping, and building strength in the legs.
2. Jump rope.
Jumping rope will improve stamina, coordination, strength, and jumping skills. Once they have the basics down, try alternating legs to work on balance.
3. Play ball.
Catching, throwing, and kicking are all great activities for building strength and improving coordination.
4. Try yoga.
Yoga is a great way to improve balance and strength. Slow movements will allow your child to work on movement planning as well.
5. Make an obstacle course.
When you visit the playground, encourage your child to do as many different obstacles as they can—using a timer can make things a little more exciting. If you can’t get out to the park, you can set up an obstacle course at home using pillows, cushions, or anything else you can find.
6. Set a good example.
Staying active isn’t just good for you—it sets a good example for your children. Spend time with your children outdoors walking, running, bike riding, or just playing together.
If you have concerns about your child’s gross motor development, talk to their pediatrician. Your child’s doctor may recommend seeing an occupational therapist or working on some activities at home. Of course, remember to be patient and keep things fun for your child. Improving gross motor control can take time, but it is possible.
“Hi! My name is Lydia and I’m a freelance writer who specializes in parenting and education. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and worked as a teacher and tutor before deciding to stay home full-time with my two young children. As a mom, I’m passionate about early childhood education and am always looking for fun and practical ways to teach my kids at home.”