Our team of Occupational Therapists have put together this information to help you support your child to develop their gross motor skills.
Gross motor skills are those which require whole body movement and which involve the large muscles of the body to perform everyday functions, such as standing and walking, running and jumping, and sitting upright at the table. They also include eye-hand coordination skills such as ball skills (throwing, catching, kicking) as well as riding a bike or a scooter and swimming.
Not only are gross motor skills important for participation in sporting games but also for development in daily occupations such as dressing.
Gross motor skills impact on your child’s capacity to cope with a full day of school (sitting upright at a desk, moving between classrooms, carrying a heavy school bag). They also impact on their ability to navigate the environment (walking around classroom items such as a desk, up a sloped playground hill or to getting on and off a moving escalator).
Without fair gross motor skills, a child will struggle with many day-to day-tasks such as a eating, packing away their toys, and getting onto and off the toilet or potty.
The key to the development of gross motor skills is to break down each activity and to start at a level that your child can do and feels comfortable. Then you can slowly increase the level of difficulty, altering one aspect of the activity at a time. Your child’s abilities are then stretched but they do not lose confidence. Always give lots of praise and encouragement!
Help your child to learn by discussing their technique. Emphasise what has gone right in the successful attempts rather than dwell on what was wrong with the unsuccessful attempts.
Gross motor co-ordination is the ability to use the arms, trunk and legs with good control for organised movements such as swimming or riding a bike.
If your child is having difficulty with gross motor co-ordination they might:
• Have difficulty co-ordinating their body to achieve an action.
• Dislike physical activities.
• Have difficulty learning new physical skills.
• Get himself ‘tangled’ up or appear clumsy when carrying out tasks.
The following activities are suggested to help your child develop their ball skills. They are designed to help them learn about the force, timing and self-organisation needed to get the ball to do what they want (e.g. how high or low do I need to throw to make the target?)
Start by catching a balloon or popping bubbles. Then move on to using a large, soft ball. As you progress you can decrease the size of the ball. It can be helpful for the child to play with a sibling or a friend to make it more fun, but not if they are likely to compare themselves negatively.
Things you may want to highlight to your child are:
Activities one to nine are all performed with the child in a relatively stationary position, with just the ball moving. Activities ten to thirteen increase the difficulty of organisation skills required as both the child and the ball will be moving.
With each activity, once it has been performed successfully a number of times, move on as suggested (e.g. take a step back, change the timing or self-organisation required). Return to the previous level if it is too difficult. Do not let the child experience prolonged failure.
Sitting or kneeling on the floor, the child and a partner roll a large ball in a straight line between them. Gradually decrease the size of the ball and vary the direction and speed.
Using two hands, the child throws a ball in the air (to roughly 12 inches) and catches it. The ball only needs to leave the child’s hands and then be re-caught. The aim of this is to allow the child to get used to the shape their hands need to make to receive the ball.
Stand roughly three feet from the child and throw the ball to them. Make each throw even in force and directly to their hands. Discuss any changes the child needs to make such as having hands ready, standing still, not over anticipating, waiting for the ball.
If the child catches five times in a row, ask the child to take one step back.
The child stands roughly two feet from a wall, throws the ball at the wall and catches it. Discuss any changes such as throwing more gently, throwing in a straight line, not leaning forward to attempt to catch.
With each successful catch the child takes one step back. Aim for the child to build up rhythm and flow to the activity. If the child loses the organisation necessary ask them to take a step forward towards the wall.
The child throws the ball against the wall, allowing it to bounce before they catch it. Start close to the wall and with each five successful catches in a row, the child takes one step back.
The same activity as level five above but introduce a clap before catching. Start close to the wall and with each 5 consecutive catches the child takes one step back.
The child throws the ball up in the air roughly one to two feet (30-60cm). With each set of five successful catches, they throw the ball six-twelve inches (15-30cm) higher. This will require the child to change the direction of the throw (i.e. to throw it vertically rather than horizontally), to visually track the ball in a different direction and to re-position their hands for catching.
The child throws the ball in the air and lets it bounce before catching it.
The child throws the ball in the air, lets it bounce and claps before catching it. After five successful catches, increase the number of claps by one.
The child walks around in a circle with a partner, throwing the ball back and forth to each other. Start with a small circle and slowly make the distance greater. Start with a slow pace and gradually increase to a running pace.
As for level ten, but bouncing the ball between each other.
Mark a spot on the ground for the child to walk towards. When they reach the spot, throw the ball to them. The child then throws the ball to the wall and catches it. Slowly increase the speed at which the child walks or runs to the spot.
The child walks slowly opposite a wall, throwing the ball against it as they move. Slowly the child can increase the pace at which they move. This activity can also be upgraded to include a bounce before catching and then a bounce and a clap before catching.
Balancing can involve small movements like the movements we make to keep a sitting position when we turn a corner in a car. It can also involve large movements like extending our hands and arms if we fall to protect our bodies.
Children test their balance from a very early age – a baby will rock on her hands and knees, a young child will try to stand on one leg, etc.
Here are a series of activities that can help your child improve their balance.
The child gets onto the floor on their hands and knees. They sit on their feet. Roll a large ball towards them and get them to ‘butt’ it back to you with their head. Make sure to put a cushion under the child’s head and if they hit their head often, discontinue the activity.
Sit and Catch
The child should sit on an unstable surface, e.g. a wobble board or trampette and watch a ball rolled towards them, catch it and roll it back. Do this to either side.
Lie the child down on a mat and get them to roll over, use verbal or physical prompts if necessary but try to decrease these. Roll the child up on a mat, duvet or blanket and ask them to unroll.
Copy the dog
Begin with the child on all fours. Get them to wave each ‘paw’. The two ‘paws’ if they can manage it. Use:
Bottom walk (Choo Choo walk)
Ask the child to ‘walk’ along the floor on their bottom. Tell the child they are a train and ask them to go slow or fast.
Half Knee Push
Kneeling up, the child has to walk on their knees pushing a ball (with resistance)
Half Knee Dual
Pushing palms trying to upset the other’s balance. Switch knees.
On a large piece of toughened cardboard or heavy fabric, the child is pulled around in:
a. low kneeling
b. all fours
This works best on a lino surface.
Roll ball to either side of the child – they must shift weight to get the ball.
Skittles game in all fours position.
Make up dances. Jumping backwards or sideways.
Over a barrel
With legs astride a barrel or large tube, gently rock and try to elicit balance reactions. As these improve increasingly challenge the child.
Arrange 4 or 5 different sized chairs in a circle. Ask the child to hold a ball (to take away use of hands) and change seats while the music is on and to stay still when it goes off.
On bed, trampette or trampoline:
Ask Occupational Therapist for details
Using an old tyre
Play catching and throwing while walking around an old tyre or inner tube.
Part of gross motor co-ordination is your child’s ability to plan and forward think what movements are required to achieve what they are doing. For example to be able to throw a ball to someone, your child needs to think about how far away the other person is, how tall they are, are they straight ahead or to the side, how heavy the ball is and will this affect the force it is thrown at.
If your child is having difficulty with gross motor co-ordination they might:
If your child has difficulty riding a bike it may be helpful for them to have practice breaking down the steps to their “just right” level.
Cardiff Pedal Power
Pedal Power is a charity that supports children, young people and adults develop these skills. They have a range of bikes and karts which can be used by one and two people to help support your child build confidence before getting on their bike independently.
029 2039 0713
April to September: 9am to 6 pm
October to March: 9 am to 4 pm
Open on weekends and holidays
April to September: 11 am to 6pm
October to March: 11am to 4 pm
For more information go to www.cardiffpedalpower.org
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Occupational Therapy for Children and Young People
1st Floor, Woodland House
Maes Y Coed Road
Phone: 02921 836 910
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