Creative and Fun Gross Motor Activities for Toddlers

April 1, 2015

All that jumping, bouncing, running and climbing your toddler does are not only fun moves but are also great activities to fine tune important gross motor skills. According to Amy Baez, a pediatric occupational therapist, author and founder of Playapy, "gross motor skills are essential, as they allow a child to develop independence in many ways." In addition to working on the major muscle groups, skills from gross motor activities target joints and hand muscles, which are crucial to developing fine motor skills. Says Baez, "Since the hands allow a child to hold objects like toys, crayons and utensils, gross motor skills also play an important role in a child's cognitive development and fine motor and self-care skills."

Stumped on new ways to develop these skills? Here's a list of gross motor activities to try with your tot:

  • Play Balloon Volleyball 
    Tap the balloon back and forth to keep it afloat for as long as possible. Baez notes that this activity bumps up your tot's endurance and her projected action sequences, which are actions that simultaneously require timing and movement in space. See how many times in a row the balloon gets tapped before it hits the ground.
  • Build an Obstacle Course
    Baez suggests designing a simple obstacle course for your toddler to conquer. Using items from around the house, you'll help your child develop motor planning, endurance and agility. There are many creative and safe obstacles already in your home -- have her crawl under chairs, move objects from one side of the room to another, crawl through cardboard boxes or walk a wide tapeline on the ground to practice balance.
  • Play Crab Soccer
    Not only will everyone get a good laugh from this fun activity, but Baez says you'll also be "improving joint stability needed for controlled gross motor skills later in life." With her hands and feet on the ground and her tummy facing the ceiling, have her chase after a ball like a crab, shifting her weight as needed to kick the ball.
  • Imitate Animals
    Your child will have a blast doing her best leapfrog (jumping in a low squat), bear crawl (on hands and feet, rather than knees), snake slither (belly crawling with elbows) and cat roll (rolling over and over or side to side on back). "Animal games are a fun way to improve body strength and stimulate proprioceptors, which communicate to a body part where it is in space in relation to the rest of the body," says Devorah Harow, CranioBalance therapist and founder of Beit Roga, Center for Healthier Living.
  • Be a Human Wheelbarrow
    Hold your kiddo by her ankles while she "walks" on her hands. You should keep your hands down low by your sides, so that she is almost horizontal or at a slight angle. This goofy position is sure to get some giggles while encouraging reciprocal movement, core strength and shoulder strength. Make sure that she's comfortable and able to support her own weight in this position -- Harow notes this activity is appropriate for ages 3 and up.
  • Tinker in the Garden
    You may not think of gardening as a gross motor activity, but it gets her whole body involved and is something she can do as soon as she can squat. Harow explains, "Activities like raking and digging with small gardening tools while in a squatting position strengthen upper and lower body muscles and promote muscle flexibility. The squat is one of the healthiest positions for the body, and is crucial for proper bending techniques." Provide some child-sized gloves and plastic tools, and let her help outside. Even if you don't have a garden, she can rake grass, leaves or sand, or play with rocks and get the same benefits.

"Providing your child with ample exercise and opportunity for gross motor skills development is crucial for her continued physical and psychological development," says Harow. "Gross motor skills and proper physical development give her the best chance of reaching her peak motor development, as well as peak psychological health."

Want more ideas for kid exercises? Check out these fun indoor exercise for kids.

Victoria Georgoff is a freelance writer and psychotherapist who enjoys writing about parenting, helping other parents and, of course, being a parent herself. Follow her on Twitter.

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