Gross motor play ideas for pre-school children

The World Health Organization recommends that children between the ages of 1 and 5 have at least 180 minutes of physical activity a day. But luckily for parents this doesn’t mean a solid three hours of physical activity in one go!

Instead, young children should have a total of at least three hours of physical activity spread throughout the day. This helps to develop a healthy body and It can also help encourage the development of gross motor skills

What Are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills are those that use your whole body. We all need gross motor skills to walk, run and climb as well as for everyday activities, such as getting dressed, going up and down stairs and sitting at a table. You also need gross motor skills to keep your body stable when you are doing fine motor tasks such as eating with cutlery or drawing.

Why Are Gross Motor Skills Important For preschool children?

Preschool chidlren need well-developed gross motor skills so they can learn how to:

Dress and undress.

Use the loo or potty

Navigate the world around them without bumping into things.

Cope with walking on uneven surfaces, and up and down hills and steps.

Sit comfortably at the table to eat or draw.

What Gross Motor Skills Should Preschool children Work On?

  • Running.
  • Jumping.
  • Skipping.
  • Hopping.
  • Climbing.
  • Bending.
  • Squatting.
  • Twisting.
  • Balancing.
  • Kicking.
  • Spinning.
  • Rolling.
  • Bouncing a ball.
  • Throwing and catching.
  • Pedaling a tricycle.

Any activity that encourages gets your toddler or preschooler to move moving their body is good.

If you are in need of inspiration, I have compiled a list of ideas that could be fun to try!

1. Stick jump

This activity is simple to set up, needing nothing but a few sticks and some outdoor space

  1. Lay your sticks on the ground. Place them parallel to each other, like the rungs of a ladder. Choose the spacing according to the size of your child.
  2. Ask your child jump from one gap between the sticks to another. If your child masters two-foot jumping, mix things up, and get them to hop on one foot.
  3. As your child progresses, move the rungs a little further apart to keep it challenging.

2. Pick The Fruit

For this activity, you’ll need some string, a tree or fence, and a variety of soft, light objects. You will also need a basket, bag, or box.

  1. Tie pieces of string to the lower branches of a tree or the tops of fence posts.
  2. Loosely attach an item to the other end of the string.
  3. Give your child a basket, bag, or box, and have them pick the “fruit” from the tree.

If you are feeling especially creative, you can draw fruits onto paper plates, or cut them out of cardboard and hang them.

Alternatively, you can use toy plastic fruits, but they can be tricky to tie to the tree.

3. Beat The Teddy

First, you will need to lay out a random series of “bases” between which your toddler or preschooler will run. You can do this by drawing them with chalk, or by using hula-hoops, or items of clothing.

You shout “Go!” and your child will run to one of the bases. While your child is running, you will gently throw the teddy to that base, aiming to get it there before your child reaches it.

Each time you miss, you retrieve the teddy and return to your starting point to try again.

As an alternative, you can place a different item at each base. Instead of your child choosing a random base to run to, you will shout out an item, and your child must run to that base.

4. Run And Sort

For this game, you will need a variety of objects, and three or four baskets or boxes.

Place all of your objects in a pile, or even better, into a large box.

Set your baskets in a row, several feet from the object pile. The exact distance will depend on how big your child is, and how much you want them to run.

Label each basket with a color.

Have your child run to the object pile, and choose one item. They will then run back to you and place the item in the basket for the appropriate color.

Repeat until your little one is worn out.

6. Cycling

Riding on a trike, bike, or balance bike is good for young children’s gross motor skills you can increase the benefits by:

  • Lay out fun roadways or mazes for your child to navigate.
  • Let them play “delivery driver.” Set up a shop at one end of your space, and wait for your child at the other. Have them take your order,” ride to their store, and bring back your item. For safety, use a backpack for your child to carry items in.

7. Box Builder

Collect as many boxes as possible in a range of sizes and shapes. Enjoy building a city, towers, a spaceship, or whatever else comes to mind.

8. Dress-Up Relay

Use hula-hoops or boxes to mark the two ends of your race track. At each end, place a variety of dressing-up items. You can solely use children’s dress-up items, or add in some fun stuff from the grown-ups.

Have your preschool child start at one point.

When you say go, they run to the other end of the course, choose one item, and put it on.

They then run to the other end of the course, choose another item, and put that on as well. Repeat until your little one is tired or cannot wear any more clothes.

If you have more than one child they can have a race.

9. Roll, Jump, Run

One person is “it”, and the others wait for instruction.

“It” calls out either Roll, Run, or Jump. They then specify a location.

The players then have to roll, run, or jump to that spot.

The first person to arrive at the spot wins, and is the next one to be “it”.

11. Paint the fence

Use an outdoor fence or wall

Give your child a bucket of water and some big old paintbrushes. They can then ‘paint’ the fence with water.

13. Scrub Them Down

Most toddlers and preschoolers like playing with water. Make the most of this by giving them a bucket of warm, soapy water with some sponges, and setting them loose. You can have them wash:

  • The windows.
  • Any ride-on toys they have outside.
  • Other washable toys such as balls, bats, or more.
  • Anything else you can think of as long as it requires a lot of bending, twisting, and stretching.

15. Balloon Up

Inflate a balloon and see how long your little one can keep it off of the floor. The only rule is they can only hit it — not hold it.

16. Running Games Classics

If you have a group of children, classics like What’s The Time, Mr.Wolf? and Tag are all excellent for promoting gross motor skills.

17. Play In The Park

Take your toddler or preschooler to the park, and let them play on the playground equipment.

By climbing the ladder to the slide, swinging on the swings and climbing on the climbing frame they’ll be practicing a wide variety of gross motor skills.

18. Silly Walks

For plenty of giggles with your gross motor activities, there’s nothing like silly walks.

You and your child can waddle like ducks, bounce like bunnies, or hop like frogs.

19. Catch The Ribbon

Grab a length of ribbon, and run around outside with the ribbon trailing behind you. Encourage your toddler or preschooler to catch the ribbon.

You can either hold the ribbon in your hand, twirling it at different heights and directions, or tuck it into your waistband for an easier catch.

20. Letter, Color, Animal, Scramble

Draw a variety of letters, numbers, colors, and animals onto paper plates. Lay the plates face up on the ground.

Next, play some music and encourage your child to dance until the music stops. When you stop the music, shout out one of the items you have drawn onto a plate.

The child runs to the plate with the item named and stands still till the music starts again.

Indoor Gross Motor Activities For Preschoolers And Toddlers

Don’t worry if you don’t have plenty of outdoor space, or if the weather is bad. You can still enjoy gross motor activities with your preschooler or toddler.

1. Don’t Touch The Laser Beams/Spider In The Web

For this game, you’ll need either string or masking tape.

Choose an area for play, and criss-cross your string, or tape to create a series of lines across the room. Be sure to leave enough room between your for your child to climb through.

Challenge your child to make their way from one spot to another without touching the “laser beams.”

3. Animal Antics

Make animal masks together, and let your preschooler behave like their favorite animal. or choose an animal for them.

If you have two or more children playing, you can encourage one to be the predator and the other to be the prey.

4. Build An Obstacle Course

Rearrange the furniture, make tunnels out of boxes, or crawl under and over chairs — the possibilities are endless.

If you are in need of inspiration, there are plenty of ideas online.

5. The Floor Is Lava

Just because this is an old game doesn’t mean it is any less fun!

Challenge your toddler or preschooler to make their way from one spot to another without touching the floor. Why? Because the floor is lava!

This gross motor skills activity can be combined with the indoor obstacle course for double the fun.

6. Stepping Stones

Make your own stepping stones, and lay them out around the room. Encourage your little one to step, jump, or leap from one stepping stone to the other.

Variations of this game include:

  • Making lily pads instead of stepping stones, and being a frog who must squat down and leap from pad to pad.
  • Using stepping stones of different shapes and/or colors. You then shout out a particular color or shape for your child to jump to.

7. How Many Can I Carry?

This is another variation of the point-to-point type of gross motor skill activity for toddlers and preschoolers.

Create a pile of items such as teddy bears, empty boxes, or another soft, light item.

Encourage your child to walk between two bases, collecting a different item at each base. Your little one can carry them in their arms, or older children can balance them on their heads.

For some variation, get your child to hop, skip, walk backward, or jump between bases.

8. Scavenger Dress-Up

Collect a range of dress-up items, and place each one in a paper bag, box, or similar container.

Hide the items around the home, and set your child off to find them. As your little one finds an item, they put it on, then go look for the next.

Choose hiding places that are safe but which require your child to bend, reach, stretch, and otherwise move their bodies in a variety of ways.

9. Jump The Rope River

Use two skipping ropes to lay on the floor. The space between them is the river, and your child must jump from one side to the other.

But there’s a catch. Make some simple paper sharks (yes, I know they don’t live in rivers), crocodiles, or alligators to put in the river. You could also use stuffed toys.

Your toddler or preschooler has to jump across without landing into the “water” and touching an animal.

You can increase the width of the river to maintain the challenge as your child becomes better at jumping. Alternatively, you can add a bridge for your child to cross. Make the bridge out of a couple of strips of masking tape, stuck to the floor, and make it narrow enough to require a slow balancing act.

10. Simon Says

You know the drill on this one.

To make it an effective gross motor activity for your preschooler or toddler, say things such as Simon Says:

  • Do five jumping jacks.
  • Balance on one leg and count to five.
  • Run in place for one minute.
  • Waddle like a duck and flap your wings.

11. Paper Ball football/basketball

Take a sheet of newspaper, lightly scrunch it up into a ball shape, and off you go. You can set up a simple goal with a pair of chairs or a couple of sweaters as goalposts. or use a laundry basket or waste paper bin as a basket.

12. Musical Statues

Crank up the music, and enjoy some silliness. Encourage your little one to dance like crazy, waving their arms around, and kicking their legs into the air.

Turn the music off suddenly. When the music stops, your little dancer must freeze in position. Either see how long they can go without moving, or if you have a group, the last one to move wins.

13. Cardboard Hopscotch

Cut out some squares of cardboard, draw a number from one to ten on each, and lay them out for a game of indoor hopscotch.

14. Yoga

Yoga is a fabulous gross motor skill activity for preschoolers. It’s a great example of how they do not have to run around like crazy to practice their skills.

My children are especially fond of doing the poses named after things they recognize such as the cat, the cow, and the frog.

15. Simple Pretend Play

Any indoor pretend play that requires your child to bend and stretch their body can help them improve their gross motor skills.

16. Walking On Pillows

Lay pillows and cushions around the floor to make a trail. Let your toddler or preschooler make their way from one end to the other.

17. Chasing Bubbles

The simple act of blowing bubbles, and letting your child run, jump, and pop them will provide a workout for their gross motor skills.

18. Dancing

Simple but effective. Put on music and dance.

Many children’s songs and nursery rhymes are accompanied by actions. So, choose songs that require your toddler or preschooler to march, jump, clap, or otherwise use their gross motor skills.


Above all have fun!

What are the essential motor skills for handwriting success?

Gross motor – postural control and shoulder stability

Before a child can hold their pencil effectively, they need adequate postural control.  Postural control is our ability to keep our bodies stable when we are stationary and when we move.  It is essential for us to be able to use our arms, hands and fingers with good control. The development of fine motor skills depends on a background of good postural stability.

Next children need to have good shoulder stability, muscle strength, stamina and control around their shoulders and upper arms which in turn will allow them to use their hands freely.

These skills are like the foundations at the base of the pyramid that the more refined skills can be built on. Like all foundations they need to be in place first!

Fine motor – Finger and hand control

In order to hold their pencil with their fingers children first need to be able to isolate their fingers from their palm.  Initially, when they hold a pencil, a child will grip their entire hand around it.  This becomes more refined as they develop their pincer grip and their fine motor skills improve.  This is what allows them to hold their pencil with their fingers and eventually to develop a dynamic pencil grasp. 

Pre writing Skills

Pre-writing skills are the things a child needs to be able to do before they are ready to write.  This includes being able to colour and trace inside lines, and to draw certain shapes.  Shapes such as vertical and horizontal lines and circles form the foundation of most letters.  Think of the letter ‘a’ for example.  It starts off as a circle, and then has a vertical line on the side.  Additionally, a child needs to be able to draw diagonal lines for letters such a ‘k,’ ‘v,’ ‘w,’ and x.’

Visual Perception

Visual perception relates to how the brain interprets the information that our eyes see, and how the brain, eyes and hand work together.  Before a child can write a letter, they need to be able recognise it and understand how it is formed.  They need to remember what it looks like, and then reproduce it on paper.  Activities such as puzzles matching games and reading can help to develop visual perception skills.

Summary

Handwriting is an incredibly complex skill.  Before children can hold a pencil, they need to be able to sit up with good balance and stability and move their arm independently of their body.  They need to be able to isolate their fingers to hold their pencil, They need to be able to form all of the basic pre-writing shapes, they need to visually understand the difference between letters and then they need to remember how to form the letters.  At any of these stages children can have difficulties. At Next Steps Children’s Therapy we can assess and give advice, recommendations and treatment programmes to support areas of deficit which may be impacting on the development of your child’s handwriting. Please get in touch if you would like further information on how we can help.