Gross motor skills include whole body movements and those of the large muscles in our bodies. This includes the coordination and movements of arms, legs, head, and torso. Gross motors also help promote good digestion, appetite, and to calm nerves. Our brains require more oxygen than any other organ in our bodies. Physical activity opens up our lungs so we can get stronger, healthier breaths, keeping our brains oxygenated and from quickly tiring. Children need a minimum of an hour of gross motor play every day. When children engage in gross motor activities daily it helps prevent childhood diabetes, obesity, and back or joint complaints, and reduces stress.
Gross motors generally occur in a natural progression. Large motors most commonly develop in a child from head to toes and from trunk to extremities, with the lower extremities taking longer. The first two years is all about gross motor development and control. It is during these first two years that most children learn to hold their head up, sit up (trunk control), stand and balance, walk, run, and do stairs. During the preschool years, developing strong gross motor skills helps to maximize the development of the fine motor skills
Early Childhood is the window of opportunity for brain growth. Because the ‘motor functions’ are in the center of the brain, movements are a source of stimulation that has an effect upon the entire brain. And the more we use our brain, the more the neurons are stimulated. And the more stimulated the neurons, the more our brains grow! By around the age of three years, 80% of our brain cell connections are already made. Today’s children are more sedentary than in the past making it ever more important to make sure that the children in our care are using their gross motor muscles everyday.
There are 3 functions of gross motor skills that teachers of young children need be aware of. They are; Perceptual Motor Development, Core Control, and Bilateral Coordination. Perceptual Motor Development: This is the ability to use ones eyes to gather information and then use the appropriate muscles to perform a task. It’s eye-hand and eye-foot coordination. Researches have noticed that as many as 5-6% of children have noticeable coordination concerns in the primary schools. And children who are awkward or clumsy have more social problems than their peers later in school. They are more often teased, last to be picked for a team, or yelled at for knocking something over. As Early Educators it is important that we consciously help our children develop strong perceptual coordination. Some signs that you might see that a child needs help developing their perceptual motors include; poor coordination, poor awareness of personal space, poor eye-hand or eye-foot coordination, clumsiness, poor rhythm, poor flexibility in movements, poor handwriting, and difficulty maintaining balance.
Core Development: Core muscles are the muscles in your back and abdomen. They include the muscles in the hips and shoulders. These muscles keep us stabilized, giving us balance. They allow us to sit up straight. Strong core muscles allow for more freedom of movement to stoop, twist, and change direction without falling over. Do you have messy eaters in your room or children who are often dropping toys? It could be that their core muscles are not strong enough to support them properly. Chairs and tables should be at appropriate heights for the children. When a child lacks core muscle strength and control they may tend to slouch which in turn can affect their fine motor coordination needed for handwriting.
Bilateral Coordination: Bilateral coordination is the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled manner. Think of dividing the body in half and then moving across the midline. These include top to bottom, left to right, and front to back. Doing activities that require one to move across the midline helps to connect the neurons across the brain. And the more we stimulate the brain, the more the brain grows. A child who has strong bilateral coordination stimulates both sides of the brain making things like climbing stairs, playing soccer, and learning a musical instrument possible. Bilateral coordination also includes ‘handedness’. A child generally shows handedness between 3-5 years. Once a child has established which hand is the stronger, they are ready to practice small motor skills needed for writing.
Activities to Reinforce Gross Motor Skills
- Play games that require balance.
- Encourage lots of varied movement activities throughout the day.
- Give children heavy objects that they can lift and manipulate.
- Equipment to crawl over, under, and between (think boxes or playground).
- Music to dance to.
- Bicycles, scooters, wheelbarrows, and any rolling toy.
- Large yoga balls.
- Do animal walks and games that include running and jumping.
- Balance beam and clomper stompers.
- “While seated back in a chair, children’s feet should touch the floor (not necessarily rest flat on the floor); children should not have to perch on the edge of the chair to touch the floor. Children also need to be able to rest their elbows on the table and fit their knees comfortably under the table” Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale
- Scarf and bean bag play.
- Pulling materials apart (cotton balls, Legos).
- Moving forward and backwards to the drumbeat. Side to side.
- Bouncing and catching a ball.
- Rhythm games.
- Bike riding.
- Pouring at lunch, in the water table.
- Cutting, stringing, coloring.
- Spreading with a butter knife.
- Crawling games.
- Whole body movement breaks and activities.
- Playgrounds ideas include balls, cardboard boxes, hula hoops, wheeled toys, tunnels, slides, balance beam, bean bags, climbers, balance boards, objects that are fairly heavy and can be carried around.
- Words to act out and use in the classroom; jumping, skipping, twirling, reaching, falling, lifting, rising, twisting, leaping, balancing, forwards, backwards, straight, sideways, diagonally, curved, suddenly, lightly, steadily, creeping, smoothly, jolting, solo, group, symmetrical, asymmetrical, mirror, formation, in line.