Pediatric Therapeutic Services

Gross Motor Skills: Toys and Activities

Get Kids Moving by Making Gross Motor Activities Fun

Today’s kids need to get up and move more.

The gross motor activities once commonly associated with childhood—activities requiring full-body movement, like riding a bike, jumping on a trampoline, or just running around the playground—increasingly compete with electronic screens for young people’s attention. 

But, too much screen time isn’t the only reason children aren’t moving enough. They must sit for much of the day at school, just as adults end up sitting most of the day at work.

Children and adolescents ages 6-17 need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day to stay healthy and fit, according to the CDC. And, the benefits of doing so abound—a healthier cardiovascular system, stronger muscles, improved bone health and weight status, even sharper mental skills, and a reduced risk of depression. 

Unfortunately, fewer than one in four children and youth in the U.S. (24%) meet the CDC activity guideline. The National Physical Activity Plan’s 2018 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth gave them an overall grade of D-minus!

Female school-based physical therapist with group of elementary students on playground, all raising their arms and smiling.When kids aren’t engaged in enough physical activities, their risk for such lifelong, adverse outcomes as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes goes up. 

Walking, running, skipping, climbing, playing sports—all these and similar activities make significant contributions to a child’s development and overall well-being. The more children move, the better off they’ll be.

Children with disabilities and disorders can particularly benefit from developing their gross motor skills in a school-based therapy program. For this reason, the physical therapists on the Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) team use a wide range of tools and strategies to help these students meet their functional goals. 

Whether playing with gross motor toys on their own, or taking part in therapist-led group activities, students who need gross motor development assistance can gain strength, endurance, and confidence from school-based therapy in many ways. 

Let’s consider several strategies PTS’ physical therapists rely on to successfully care for students and their gross motor needs.

Fuel Gross Motor Development with Fun Activities for Kids Outside

“Go play outside!” can seem like a parenting cliché. But, it also happens to be an excellent prescription for developing gross motor skills! When the sun’s out and you’re able to take students outside for therapy sessions, keep these gross motor activities in mind: 

  • Playground Play
    Swinging on monkey bars, climbing stairs, and a host of other fun activities get students moving and their gross motor skills improving! More educational and psychological experts arecalling on America’s schools to reclaim recess. And, we (physical therapists) agree.
  • Hopscotch
    This classic game for kids directly requires them to practice the skills of hopping and jumping. It also demands balance, because players swap from hopping on one foot to two throughout.
  • Obstacle Courses
    Students will need to combine several gross motor skills to complete obstacle courses: walking, running, jumping, climbing, crawling, and more. Finishing fun obstacle courses also give students confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Tricycles or Scooters
    Riding one of these youngster-powered vehicles can serve as a stepping stone to riding a bicycle. It also works the legs’ large muscles and hones kids’ balance and coordination.
  • Swimming
    If the district or school where you work has a pool, get kids in the water when you can. Swimming is great for the important skill of bilateral coordination. (Please note, students should swim only if they have the endurance to do so and have previously received lessons!)If students have no pool access at school, encourage parents and guardians with one, to take their children swimming.

In fact, you can recommend any of these outdoor activities to parents who want to encourage their child’s gross motor development at home.

Make the Most of Movement Games and Gross Motor Toys Indoors

You won’t always be able to go outside to lead activities for kids’ gross motor skills. Here are some solid options when you’re staying inside, by choice or circumstance:

  • Activity Cards
    Have kids “pick a card, any card” from a deck of cards bearing instructions for and pictures of specific gross motor activities. Students then complete whatever challenge is on the card—tossing bean bags, pushing against a wall, jumping in and out of toy hoops on the floor, and so on.PTS’ Power Moves is a fast-paced card game designed to strengthen students’ balance, coordination, and sensory-motor skills.
  • Movement Games
    Almost any game that gets students out of their seats can become—or already is—a gross motor game! Perennially popular movement games like Simon Says encourage body awareness and the ability to plan motions.Games for kids that involve balls are also fan favorites. (Dodgeball is the exception that proves the rule.) Have students play catch using a large ball. They’ll be motivated to use their hand-eye coordination skills and increase their focus. Once they master large balls, they can move on to throwing and catching smaller ones.
  • Balance Pods
    If you have access to balance pods (also called stepping stones), combine them with balls for fun activities to improve students’ ability to stabilize themselves. Have students stand with one foot on the pod as they try to catch a ball tossed to them.
  • Unstable Surfaces
    Create an unstable but safe surface (for example, a stack of pillows) for students to walk or climb over. As they do, they’ll strengthen muscles they may not normally use. The task seems simple but can prove quite an exciting challenge.
  • Yoga Poses and Dancing
    Pediatric yoga is a wonderful way to build large muscle flexibility and strength. Adopting and holding various yoga poses can not only help kids develop their gross motor skills but also leave them feeling focused and energized.To contrast with yoga, get your kids dancing—it may be your students’ favorite activity. It helps develop their coordination and motor sequencing skills. It also introduces them to the concept of rhythm. The good news for you: All you need is music!

Join the PTS Physical Therapy Team to Make a Real Difference

Gross motor skills are important because we need them in so many everyday activities. Helping all students, especially those with disabilities and disorders, develop these skills is one way physical therapists can make a tremendous difference in young lives.

PTS is always looking for physical therapists ready to do more good for more children. Check out our available physical therapist positions, and send us your information today!

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