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Gross motor skills

Gross motor skills are large movements your child makes with their arms, legs, feet, or entire body. For example; crawling, running and jumping are gross motor skills.

Gross motor skills can be challenging for many children for a number of reasons:

  • Lack of experience or practice.
  • Difficulty using two sides of the body together (bilateral integration).
  • Reduced balance caused by poor core stability
  • Difficulty planning and organising themselves to follow instructions
  • Poor spatial (space) awareness skills

In many cases, supporting a child on a regular basis to practice gross motor activities should encourage their skills to improve.

Games and activities can be introduced to your child at any time throughout the day. Try to create lots of opportunities as this can be very helpful for your child’s gross motor development.

  • Regular practice (five to ten minutes each day) will help your child improve their skills.
  • Encourage your child by providing praise and encouragement for their efforts and success.
  • Start easy and gradually make tasks more difficult for example, if your child is having difficulty with knowing where parts of his/her body are knowing left and right, start by doing activities which focus on body parts. Once this is known, start introducing left and right.
  • Make it fun!

  • Consistency – Practice new tasks in the same place with the same materials each time
  • Repetition – Repeat the same task for several days or even weeks, with each repetition, remain consistent.
  • Demonstration – In group situations, allow your child to watch his/her peers complete a task first. This will provide the child with a visual demonstration and more time to learn how to do the activity
  • Support verbal instructions with visual demonstration
  • Even if you are only extending a task or changing it slightly, assume that the child is learning a whole new task from the beginning.
  • Encourage the child to talk his way through an activity for the first few times, create rhymes, this will help the child develop their planning and doing skills
  • Clear short instructions – Use only one command at a time
  • Go at the child’s pace – If a child is not ready or willing to learn a skill, it will be much harder to teach. Teach one step at a time making sure the child has some success no matter how small
  • Praise all efforts – Often a child will put huge amounts of effort and still not complete a task
  • Successfully - it is important to praise efforts rather than results
  • Try to balance assistance and independence – encourage your child to do as much as they can for themselves
  • Provide opportunities for activities that are matched to the child’s needs and abilities
  • Consider activities that are not competitive, self-paced, and group-optional, as these can help boost self-confidence - some children do better learning new skills individually or in small groups

Gross motor skills are large movements your child makes with their arms, legs, feet, or entire body. For example; crawling, running and jumping are gross motor skills.

Bilateral integration is using both sides of the body together. It is an important foundation for the development and co-ordination between right and left sides of the body and effective two-handed coordination. Tasks that the child may find challenging include cutlery, tying shoelaces, completing buttons or zips.

Here are some activities that can be done during play and home activities that help to develop bilateral skills:

  • Washing the dishes: Start off with practising on the pots, make sure the pots are on one side of the sink and that when you wash them you use one hand to scrub the pot and one to hold it. Finish by lifting with both hands and putting on the drainer so you can dry them
  • Dusting and wiping: This is best done on a large surface like a table or wardrobe or doors. Using a cloth in both hands wipe the surface trying to reach as far as you can and stretch as far as you can with both hands particularly moving from side to side. Keep your feet in the same place on the floor and just use your arms. Go upward, downward and side to side
  • Rolling out play dough: Sit or stand to do this activity. Use both hands to roll the dough flat. You could put the cutters into the dough and use the rolling pin to push the cutter into the play dough. Remember to use your full reach
  • Pillow fights: Remember to hold the pillow with two hands, this activity naturally encourages movement of the arms across the body to reach your opponent
  • Raking in the leaves garden: Rake the leaves up around you using both hands. Try and stand in the one place and make a big pile of leaves
  • Play ‘Simon Says’: Imitating postures that emphasise crossing midline, diagonal, and alternating motor movements

For more help 

If you’re seriously concerned about your child’s movement, talk to your health visitor or GP.