Developing Your Child’s Gross Motor Skills: Ages 1–6

Gross-Motor-Skill-Development

Whether you need help encouraging Baby to walk or are just looking for exciting ways to teach your child to hop, balance, and throw with ease, we’ve got you covered with gross motor games and activities for ages 1–6 years.

Gross motor activities engage the LARGE MUSCLES in the body — the arms, legs, and torso. Here are six games and activities to foster gross motor development in four key areas: strength, balance, coordination, and body control.

ALL of the activities featured here include our top picks for children with special needs or they are special needs adaptable.

AGES 1+ — Use Push Toys!

Use-push-toys

Using push toys is a great way to encourage children to walk. Little ones feel powerful making something move, as they strengthen their leg muscles and practice important balance and walking skills. Our AWARD-WINNING* Toddler Push Toy “rattles and rumbles” along with your little one’s early steps: Colorful balls, shapes, and toys tumble around as the wooden push toy glides along. HINT: If your child is walking already, see if they can walk BACKWARD toward you while holding onto a push toy. It’s a whole new lesson in body awareness and body control trying to move themselves safely in reverse!

* Our Toddler Push Toy is the winner of the Oppenheim Best Toy Award (Platinum) and the Special Needs Adaptable Product Award.

AGES 2+ — Go Bowling!

Happy Giddy Bowling Set

A game of bowling gets little ones strengthening their muscles (and their aim). Simply set six plastic bowling pins (or you can use cardboard blocks stood on the long end) in a close-knit formation, and have your child roll a ball to try to knock them down. Seeing the pins fall down when the ball bumps them helps develop an understanding of cause-and-effect relationships, and children gain all sorts of skills as they experiment and change the force and direction of the ball. When they make something happen, their self-esteem is boosted — which is tremendously empowering to little ones, especially those with motor challenges. HINT: Bowling can be a great “redirection” activity if a child is banging toys together inappropriately.

AGES 3+  — Have an Egg Race!

turtle-egg-race

Place an egg on a spoon and see if your child can walk from one point to another without dropping it from the spoon. If you’re not up for the mess that a real egg can make (although seeing real eggs crack and splatter on the ground makes for a super-fun activity outdoors!), you can always use a Ping Pong ball or our Tootle Turtle Egg Race set: This thrilling balance race has children help baby turtles get safely to their nest. If they do it with the egg still intact, their turtle gets to hatch in the nest. If they lose their balance or grip along the way, the egg cracks open, the baby turtle pops out, and children can hand-deliver the turtle to its nest. Play individually, or create teams for a relay race — depending on the abilities and mood of your little one. An EGG-cellent way to enhance fine and gross motor skills, balance, and hand–eye coordination.

AGES 4+ — Toss Beanbags!

beanbag-toss-collage

 

Little ones can hone their aim and throwing skills simply by tossing balled up socks into a laundry basket. When they master that beginning-level task, advance to smaller, more challenging targets to further develop their hand–eye coordination and problem-solving skills. Through beanbag toss games, children learn how little adjustments in the angle of their hand, where they stand, and the force of their throw can affect where the beanbag lands — great gross-motor skills practice!

AGES 5+ — Play Hopscotch!

hopscotch-collage

Hopscotch is a great game than can be played indoors or out. When the weather is nice, make a chalk-drawn hopscotch. On rainy or snowy days, use a hopscotch mat indoors. This classic childhood game puts little ones on the path to gross motor success as they use their large-muscle groups to hop their way to the end of 5–10 squares and back. (You decide how many squares to use. Start small and build your way up to 10 . . . or more!) Show them how putting their arms out like “airplane wings” helps keep them steady while on one foot. The big 180-degree turning-jump at the end (so they can hop their way back) can be done with one or both feet — depending on skill level. HINT: When they reach the end, (instead of doing a turning-jump) have children hop backward to the starting square. You can help guide them by saying your hopscotch’s pattern aloud: “One foot – TWO FEET – One foot – TWO FEET – One foot…. Children are sure to have a HOPPING good time!

AGES 6+ — Go on a Feeding Frenzy!

Spark-Shark-Fish-Hunt

Our shark toy is meant for pool play, but you can easily adapt it for a pool-free game of “Feeding Frenzy” on land. Find an open play space where there’s plenty of room to run. At one end of the play space, lay down a shark net and spread out 3–6 of the fish. Have the child  speed like a hungry shark over to their shark net and use it to “swallow up” all the fish, then run back to the start/finish line. It’s JAW-DROPPING fun!

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Practicing gross motor skills helps young children safely move about in their world — from walking on uneven surfaces to climbing up and down playground equipment. What a great way to help your child gain mastery, speed, confidence, and independence!

Children with special needs sometimes need a little more motivation to develop gross motor skills than children with typical development do. Check out this post that includes therapy ideas for developing children’s arm strength using “planking activities”: 5 Activity Tips Using Cardboard Blocks.

And for even more special needs resources and ideas for Creative Play — Every Day, see our Special Needs Toy Guide and Special Needs section of our blog.

Have you found a clever way to use a classic toy for children’s therapy? Let us know in the comments below or on the Melissa & Doug Facebook page.