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Therapy Tips

8 Simple Ways To Improve Gross Motor Skills

Gross Motor Skills are one of most essential parts of a child's development. The coordination of our body’s major muscle groups requires an intricate neurological dance involving sensory discrimination, motor planning, balance, strength and endurance. For children who have delays in this area it is important that they see a physical or occupational therapist to help them improve their gross motor skills. In addition to visiting a therapist it is essential that parents continue to work with their child at home. Here are 8 easy ways to improve your child's gross motor skills:

1. Everybody Breath

Children who are experiencing difficulty with motor skills tend to hold their breath to stabilize their trunk.  This takes their inner/outer core muscles offline and actually contributes to a decrease in balance. So the next time you are playing, encourage everyone to talk or sing as they move.

 2. Combine The Senses

Mastering gross motor skills involves the sensory systems as well as the motor system.  Think of ways to include rhythm, vision and balance into games. For example, standing on a cushion, singing a song and playing catch with beanbags coordinated with the beat involves many of the senses.

 3. Move Through Space

Playgrounds offer a great opportunity to move your body through space.  Tunnels, ladders, swings and slides all provide stimulation of both the visual and vestibular systems (the balance center in your inner ear).  These sensory systems have a huge impact on gross motor skills.  So visit a playground and pump up the sensory systems anytime or do it right before you practice a new skill.

4. Repeat, Repeat Repeat

No one ever became an Olympic athlete by training once a week.  Frequent practice is needed to learn a skill.  There are lots of great books and blogs about motor activities that can provide ideas for fun movement games and most can be easily adapted.  Some of my favourite games have come from parents, so ask around.

 5. Let The Fun Begin

Sometimes we get so caught up in the practice and the skill that we forget to make it fun. But research on learning has revealed that motivation is an important factor. You can create a game with a holiday theme or let your child develop the activity. Then let the fun begin!

 6. Practice Problem Solving

When our children are having difficulty with a task, our tendency is to help them out with a solution.  But again, our research on learning shows that if we help the child to problem solve a different strategy, then they learn the task much better.  The next time your child isn’t successful with a skill ask them how they think they could practice.

 7. Emotions Rule

We cannot expect someone to be able to learn a new skill unless they are calm and emotionally organized.  This is what therapists call the “just right state”.  Parents often know exactly what their child needs in order to be in this space.  Deep pressure, a crunchy snack, their favorite music; all create the internal environment that call allow learning to occur.  Before you begin gross motor activity, consider what your child needs to be in the “just right state” to learn.

 8. Think Like The Brain

Imagine your brain is like the night sky.  If you incorporate one of these suggestions into motor play, then you can see a few stars.  But if you combine many of these ideas, the sky has hundreds of twinkling stars as far as you can see. We learn and remember best when many parts of our brain work together to complete a fun task.

Image Credit: USAG-Humphreys

About the Author Shelley Mannell is a Physical Therapist in St. Catharines, Canada with 25 years of experience supporting children and families on their journey to independence.  Recently, she co-created Dynamic Core for Kids, a neuromuscular approach to treating core stability in children with motor challenges.  For more information visit or follow Shelley on Twitter.

WRITTEN ON November 13, 2013 BY:

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