10 Outdoor Activities that Enhance Gross Motor Skills

10 Outdoor Activities that Enhance Gross Motor Skills

When the weather is warm and the sun is out, the best thing for your child to do is play outside.  Whether it’s a baseball game, riding a bike or just exploring around the yard, there is value in everything a child experiences while outside, including gross motor development.  Below are 10 everyday outdoor activities that help to promote gross motor skills.

1. Exploring

With natural sensory experiences everywhere, your child can learn so much when given the freedom to explore the world around him.  Lying in the grass, picking dandelions or walking on wood chips or cement help him learn how to process different textures and sensations and discover what feels good to him.

2. Climbing hills and walking on uneven surfaces

Walking up and down hills and over uneven surfaces can help build strength and endurance.  Walk with your child at a hilly park, along the beach or on a trail in the woods.  Exposing him to various landscapes with a little elevation will help build optimal strength.

3. Coloring with sidewalk chalk

When your child draws on the sidewalk he has to squat down, which strengthens his legs and trunk, and properly hold the chalk, which helps with fine motor and grasping skills.  Sidewalk chalk can also be used to create sidewalk games, like “hopscotch” or mazes to play “follow the leader.”  These games promote movement, which builds endurance

4. “Open-ended” toys

Open ended toys, like ribbon dancing sticks, jump ropes and hula hoops, can be used in many ways and encourage your child to use his imagination.  These types of toys require your child to stay in continuous motion and encourage larger movements with the arms and trunk.   

5. Riding a bike or a scooter

Riding a bike or a scooter will help your child work on coordination, endurance and overall strengthening.  The more endurance activities your child engages in, the more energy he will have for other activities.

6. Water Play

Children love water play activities during hot weather, and many of them enhance gross motor skills.  Have your child fill water buckets and carry them around, either to fill up a baby pool or help you water plants, to help with strengthening.  A water table is another fun way to incorporate many activities at once.  In a water table, your child can float objects, pour water into cups and play with small squirt toys, all activities that strengthen his hands.

7. Organized sports and ball games

Playing a friendly game of soccer, Velcro catch with a ball and paddle or with playground or beach balls will help your child develop hand-eye and hand-feet coordination, motor planning and social skills.  When playing an organized game with friends, children learn the concept of taking turns and good sportsmanship.

8. Outdoor painting projects

What better place to make a mess than outdoors?  Lay large “full body” sheets of craft paper or painting tarps down on the ground and fill paint pans or pie tins with different colors of washable finger paint.  Encourage your child to paint as “big” as possible, using his hands, legs, feet and body to paint as much of the canvas as he can.  This activity encourages him to use his major muscle groups, reach and move his body in many different ways.

9. Yard work

Let your child help you with your maintenance projects around the yard.  He can help with gardening by lifting dirt or pulling weeds.  He can help with yard clean up by collecting sticks or raking leaves.  Anytime he has to bend down and pick something up he is strengthening his legs and working on his balance.

10. Visiting a playground

Taking your child to the playground is a great way to engage multiple gross motor skills.  Climbing or hanging on playground equipment helps to strengthen many muscles at once.  Swinging on a swing set provides sensory stimulation and challenges the vestibular system in regard to balance.  Most playground equipment is set up on various leaves, requiring your child to engage his sense of depth perception and spatial awareness.

Sara Peronto

Written on 2014/08/13 by:

Sara Peronto

Sara Peronto is the Marketing Manager for Penfield Children’s Center, a nonprofit in Milwaukee, WI that serves children with special needs through physical, occupational and speech therapies, a behavior clinic and an accredited early education and care program. Sara is the Editor of PenfieldBuildingBlocks.org, an educational online resource that provides how-to articles, tips and videos for families. This website is part of the Kohl’s Building Blocks Program, which helps give Penfield children access to early educational and developmental services and equipment.