Keeping Me Well - Cardiff and Vale University Hospital

Supporting my child to develop their gross motor skills

Our team of Occupational Therapists have put together this information to help you support your child to develop their gross motor skills.  

What are 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. 

Toddler running in grass

Not only are gross motor skills important for participation in sporting games but also for development in daily occupations such as dressing.

Why are gross motor skills important?

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.

Praise and encourage when developing gross motor skills

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.

How can I help my child control their limbs to do activities?

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.

  • Start with activities he can do then increase the complexity.
  • Work at encouraging both legs or arms to do the same movements together (e.g. jumping with two feet together) then slowly graduate to where the legs or arms work differently.  For example if making a cake, one arm for mixing and one for stabilising the bowl. Also introducing knowledge of their body and how it works, ‘what movements can you arm do’.
  • Reward attempts.
  • If they feel more confident without other children around, let them try and practise on their own.
  • Rolling pin
    The child rolls along the floor rolling out the “carpet”.
  • Limpets
    Child lies on floor and someone else tries to turn them over.
  • Parcels
    The child curls up into a ball, someone else tries to open them up.
  • Wheelbarrows
    Encourage your child to walk around the room on his hands supported by someone. This can be done as a race with others.
  • Foot wrestle
    Lie on your backs and push feet onto each other. Who’s the strongest?
  • Fishes
    The child pretends to swim across the floor using arms and legs.
  • Caterpillar
    Ask your child to pretend to be a caterpillar crawling across the floor.
  • Obstacle course 
    Create a course for your child to crawl around, through tunnels, under sheets, along a track, under the table.
  • Four-point kneeling
    In doggy position, child could carry out games for a short time e.g. jigsaws.
  • “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”
    Sing the song with actions.
  • Push-of-War
    Game of pushing against each other.
  • Marching game
    Act like soldiers.
  • Pushing and rolling large balls
  • Jack in a box
    Child encouraged to lie on the floor and jump up when told ‘Ready, steady, jump’.
  • Jumping with 2 feet together, over a line or into hoops pretending the surrounding areas are shark infested.
  • Skipping over a rope two feet together.
  • Stork game – balancing on one leg.
  • Horseriding.
  • Trampolining – basic jumping with two feet together.
  • Frog jumps.
    Sit ups, squat down with knees bent and hands on floor then push with hands and legs to jump.
  • Hula Hoop
    Wiggling the trunk to keep the hoop going around.
  • Using playground equipment – swings, slides and climbing frames.
  • Forwards rolls.
  • Catching and throwing balls with two hands.
  • Obstacle courses combining stage one activities e.g. wheelbarrows, rolling, crawling and stage two activities above.
  • Skipping – forwards, backwards, alternate feet.
  • Hopscotch
  • Trampolining
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Leap frog
  • Football
  • Seated pedal cars, progressing to bicycle with stabilisers and later, without stabilisers.
  • Ball games involving bouncing, catching and throwing with one hand, and throwing it under/over leg (alternately).
  • Obstacle courses requiring general use of body and some co-ordination.

How can I help my child improve their ball skills?

A boy throwing a ball to his dadThe 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:

  • Hands and body being ready to receive the ball
  • How hard/soft the ball is thrown
  • How straight the throw is
  • When they have anticipated a catch well
  • When their timing is good
  • When their waiting is good
  • Good looking

Throwing and catching - a progression of skills

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.

Here are some ball game activities to practice. Finally, add in your own ideas and encourage your child to create their own games. This will make practice more fun and more meaningful for your child and for you.
  • The child creates a ‘target game’ on the floor or on a wall and throws a bean bag at it. Points are scored according to where the bean bag lands/strikes
  • Fill two large plastic bottles with water leaving the tops off. Place these a few feet apart. Two people stand next to each other, both holding a ball, and facing the bottles. The bottle facing you belongs to you. The aim is to knock over your opponent’s bottle with a ball. If you do so then your opponent has to retrieve the ball before they can set their bottle upright again. The one to keep the water in their bottle the longest is the winner.
  • Piggy in the middle
  • The child creates an obstacle course and bounces a ball around it. Start with a large ball.
  • Start by batting a balloon between 2 people using hands only
  • Move on to a balloon and a large paddle bat
  • Substitute the balloon with a ball (soft then hard)
  • Progress to using a small bat with a longer handle.
  • Kick a ball against a wall, gradually increasing the distance the child stands from the wall (Do not worry about stopping the ball on its return at this stage).
  • Kick a ball to a target area e.g. a chalk-marked areas of wall or between markers or wide goal posts. Gradually decrease the size of the target area.
  • Kick a ball to a stationary partner.
  • Receive the ball from a partner (kicked gently and straight to the child’s feet initially). Gradually increase the force and aim slightly to the left or right of the child.
  • Dribble a ball in a straight line towards a target.
  • Dribble a ball around one cone and back to a marked spot.
  • Dribble around two cones with a change of direction.

How can I help my child get better at balancing?

Young child balancingBalancing 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. 

Nanny Goat
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:

  • both arms
  • an arm and leg on one side
  • opposite arm and leg

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
c. sitting
This works best on a lino surface.

Ball Rolling
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.

  • Twister game
  • Push and pull
    Standing with palms together try to push or pull opponent across a line.
  • Tug of war
  • Rough walking
    Walking on rough ground, sand, hillocky land or cushions from the couch.
  • Stepping stones
  • Pretend tight rope walking
  • Passing
    Kicking a ball, stopping it with feet before kicking it back.
  • Musical statues
  • Hopscotch
    And other hopping games.
  • See-saw
    Stand on a board made into a see-saw by placing a small object under the centre, eg a broom or a pebble.
  • Hop tug game
    Draw a line and have someone on either side of the line. Stand on one foot and clasp partners forearm (opposite arm to leg) and using a hopping motion try to get the opponent to cross the line.
  • Walk the plank games
  • Jumping into hoop
  • ‘Heel to toe’ games
    This can be used in relay or obstacle games.
  • Swing ball
    Hit a ball suspended on a string

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.

Musical chairs
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:

  • holding on with two hands
  • holding with one hand
  • being held at hips
  • on her/his own




Ask Occupational Therapist for details

Obstacle Courses

Using an old tyre
Play catching and throwing while walking around an old tyre or inner tube.

How can I help my child think about their gross motor coordination?

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: 

  • have difficulty organising their body to copy an action or get into a new or awkward position, e.g. crawling between bars or backwards over an object
  • have difficulty learning new physical skills, e.g. riding a bike, learning to hop.
  • dislike outdoor games.
  • tend to stay in standing or sitting, not try climbing, not like mobile toys or joining in ball games.
  • Get ‘tangled’ up and have to be rescued from positions they cannot get out of.
  • Do not put pressure on your child to accomplish a new skill by himself. They will not be able to pick up what to do just by watching.
  • Before attempting the activity get the child to describe how they are going to do it. ‘Goal, plan, do, check’ 
  • If they feel more confident trying without other children around to make them feel foolish, let them try on their own.  They needs confidence to try before they will improve.  On the other hand, seeing another child accomplishing something may give them the idea and they may follow. 
  • Combine with activities for body awareness and spatial awareness. 
  • Start with an activity they can do, and increase its difficulty. 
  • Reward attempts even if they do not succeed. 
  • Hop scotch.
  • Going to the local park and designing an obstacle course for your child with things you know are easy and other activities that would challenge them
  • Animal walks, e.g. bunny hops, spider walks, duck waddle, kangaroo jumps.
  • An indoor obstacle course with things to climb through, between, over, wriggle under, slide along, climb up, etc. Use table, chairs, planks of wood, boxes, rugs, blankets, etc. Try going backwards over the course. Ask the child to design the course and tell you how they are going to go through it.
  • A house made with chairs and a rug is good for creeping in and out of and having to organise one’s body in a small space.
  • Swimming
  • ‘Simon says’
  • Follow the leader
  • Skipping with a hoop, then a rope. Begin with jumping then introduce rope.
  • Sitting with legs and arms crossed, pretending to be a pixie.
  • Go for a walk in the country, climbing over tree roots, up hills, under branches.
  • Group games like under, over ball relay, ‘ring-o-roses’, ‘hokey-cokey’, leap frog.
  • Ball games involving direction, eg four square, soccer, putting the ball through a goal.
  • Catching, throwing and bouncing, throwing into a box or target.
  • A series of cut out shapes (circles or footprints) in a stepping stone pattern on the floor.
  • Twister.
  • Musical statues.
  • Mime games.
  • Wriggling through tunnels.
  • Volley balloon.
  • Popping bubbles.
  • Crab football.
  • Going on a swing.
  • Imitating household items, eg toaster, tin opener, mixer, etc.
  • Rafting on a piece of card.
  • Row, row, row the boat with a partner.
  • Shadows, copying a partner.
  • Make a simple figure with joints and get child to copy positions it gets into.
  • Dancing, especially country dancing.

How can I help my child access more sport?

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.

Opening times
029 2039 0713
Open daily
April to September: 9am to 6 pm
October to March: 9 am to 4 pm

Cardiff Bay
07775 616411
Open on weekends and holidays
April to September: 11 am to 6pm
October to March: 11am to 4 pm

For more information go to

You can find more information about swimming lessons available in Cardiff and Vale at these sites: 

Find out more about local dance classes here: 

Keeping Me Well - Cardiff and Vale University Hospital

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