If you are the mama of a toddler, we can start by reaffirming that you haven’t had much sleep for the past few years. You’re exhausted, you’re frazzled, and you may no longer know which end is up.
So we understand if you are mumbling to yourself right now “what are gross motor activities? And does gross involve sticky substances, because my house is already covered with those?”
Relax, Mama, and rest assured we are not going to offer you any slime recipes here.
Gross Motor Skills: What are They?
Whereas fine motor skills are the ones your toddler will develop as he colors, works puzzles, and learns to use snaps, buttons, and zippers, gross motor skills describe larger body movements. We develop gross motor skills as toddlers when we learn to catch a ball or climb up a ladder to a slide.
When we are using our whole arms, our whole legs, or our whole trunk, these movements are described as gross motor movements. And the simple things we think of babies and toddlers doing–rolling over, sitting up, walking, and eventually running or catching a ball–set the stage for their long-term physical health.
The development of gross motor skills has become increasingly important as our lifestyles have become more sedentary, as we stick little ones in front of screens rather than encouraging movement and play.
Now, Mamas: we aren’t casting judgment because you need a Teletubbies episode to buy you enough time to get dressed for work. We have all been there. But we need to balance that time with plenty of opportunities for physical play.
And this doesn’t mean you need to be the Supermom who spends every Saturday afternoon at the playground or enrols in every “Mommy and Me” at the jumping gym class in your town. You can create plenty of (free!) opportunities for the development of gross motor skills in your own home and your own backyard.
6 At-Home Ideas to Develop Gross Motor Skills
1. She Shoots…She Scores!
A makeshift basketball goal is in almost every room of your house. Whether your target is the trash can, the laundry basket, or the bathtub, encourage your toddler to toss small, soft objects into a receptacle. Perhaps you arrange ten socks and challenge your toddler to toss each one into the basket, or you line up some bath toys and play a round of “bathtub basketball” each night (before you fill the tub with water, of course). Make it a game to see how many toys she can land in the tub in 5 minutes.
2. Pick Up The Pinecones
While we’re not promoting child labor here…let’s just say it’s an added bonus! When you have yard work that needs to be done, you can involve your toddler and turn it into a game.
For example, if your yard is littered with pinecones after a storm, bring a large bucket outside and see how many your little one can toss into the target.
A note of caution here is that you may want to have him wear gloves to protect his hands from anything prickly, and of course you don’t want to involve toddlers in any “heavy duty” yardwork with power tools. But a simple yard clean-up when there’s only minor debris, like small sticks and pinecones, can be a fun way to get active in the fresh air!
3. Jill Came Tumbling After
Speaking of the fresh air…there are few rites of passage in early childhood as thrilling as your first really good roll down a hill. If it’s safe to do so, take your little one to a small hill in your yard or a nearby park and teach them the art of rolling. You may feel a bit silly at first demonstrating this, but within seconds you will remember why you loved it so much as a kid! Obviously you will want to do this in dry conditions and inspect the area first to be sure there is nothing but soft grass (and no “gifts” left behind by neighborhood dogs!)
4. Simon Says
As far as toddler games go, Simon Says packs a great one-two punch: your toddler will be sharpening his mind while also developing gross motor skills! Commands such as “Simon Says stand on one foot” or “Simon Says jump up and down three times” will encourage movement and enhance balance all while keeping kids on their toes as they try to catch themselves before acting when “Simon” didn’t say it.
5. More than Animal Sounds
Toddlers love anything to do with animals, and you have no doubt delighted in your little one’s newfound ability to bark or meow on demand. But you can take this a step further with the “Act Like an Animal Game,” which also serves to develop gross motor skills. Challenge your little one to move like a monkey (swinging her arms wildly) or slither like a snake. Ask them to gallop like a horse or hop like a kangaroo. All of these movements will not only entertain them (and you!) but they are a great way to promote physical activity.
6. Crank Up the Tunes and Dance!
While you may not be raising a future “America’s Got Talent” contestant, rest assured that two left feet are okay, as long as they are moving. Get your toddler dancing as often as possible, and make it a game of imitation by showing them moves and asking them to repeat them. Don’t forget to take a few videos (which you will, of course, use to embarrass them one day).
The bottom line is if you are promoting movement, you are helping your toddler develop her gross motor skills. And this is one of the best and healthiest things you can do for your little ones!
In addition to all of these fun around the house games, here are a few of our favorite toddler games to purchase if you're looking for something new and different.
Roll and Play Game for Toddlers
This game was featured on The View as one of the top games for toddler motor skills and development. The purpose of the game is to encourage creative play and help cognitive development. Some of the fun 'activities' in the game are 'Roar like a lion' and "Make a happy face'. It's easy to have fun when you don't know it's for learning!
This game is great for early readers or kids 4+. The game is essentially Bingo with a twist. The pictures and words help build the concept of reading and the game itself is a whole lot of fun! Zingo has won an impressive amount of awards for being recognized as a fun and helpful game for toddler development.