Preschoolers spend a great deal of time running, climbing, jumping, and chasing each other. They scribble, paint, build, pour, cut with scissors, put puzzles together, and string beads. Therefore, a child’s physical skills are an important part of their development and affect all areas of their growth and learning. Children need to develop physically during their early childhood years so they will be able to do everyday tasks. Developing these physical skills is necessary for them to become fully independent.
Physical skills can be categorized into two main groups: gross motor and fine motor. Both work together to help you perform basic everyday functions that we sometimes take for granted.
Gross Motor Skills
When we say gross motor skills, we are not saying they are yucky, but we are talking about those skills that involve big movements and coordination of the arms, legs, and other large body parts.
Children develop gross motor skills at different rates. Running, jumping, and throwing can be difficult if a child has not fully developed these skills. You want your child to be able to control big muscle movements so they will be able to run, skip, hop, trot, balance, and coordinate movement so they can start, stop, turn, and go while running and not fall.
We want them to throw, catch and bounce a ball, jump over objects, swing and climb on playground equipment, and pedal and steer a tricycle or bike.
If you want to give your child’s gross motor skills a little extra boost, we have some fun activities you can do at home to support this development.
Learning Outcomes for Gross Motor Skills
By the end of this section, learners will be able to:
identify three activities they can do with their child that will improve gross motor skills.
identify gross motor skill movements (run, hop, jump).
understand the importance of practice and repetition in improving motor skills.
Can your child run, skip, hop?
Can your child throw and catch a ball?
Can your child jump, swing and climb?
Can your child pedal and steer a tricycle or bike?
Activities for Gross Motor Skills
Below are the activities you can do with your child to support their gross motor skills. Click on the title to reveal the activity content.
All children love bubbles and get excited when they see them! There is a fun activity to develop gross motor skills using bubbles! We call it Bubble Smash!
All you need is a container of bubbles that you can find at the Dollar Tree or the dollar section of Target or Walmart.
The adult blows the bubbles, and the child chases the bubbles and tries to smash/pop as many bubbles as possible. While chasing the bubbles, your child will have to run, jump, zigzag, and move in ways that require sudden shifts in their balance and weight.
Bubbles floating over your child’s head is an excellent way to get their arms and trunk muscles stretched out and limber.
Chasing floating bubbles and jumping to smash the bubbles gets their legs and feet moving forward, backward, and off the ground quickly and builds muscles along the way. This activity is so much fun, AND guess what! They are developing their gross motor skills.
Container of bubble soap
Another way to develop gross motor skills is hopscotch. Who remembers playing hopscotch as a child? Hopscotch was one of my favorite games as a child.
Think about the muscle movements required in a typical game of Hopscotch! Players throw a marker … stand… hop… stop… bend… pick up… straighten up… leap… jump… hop… hop…land… turn… and repeat. Not only do they do all those movements, but most of the time, it’s all on one foot! (Believe it or not, hopping on one foot is one of the most complex movements the human body can perform.)
Hopping and jumping require strong gross motor skills, balance, and coordination. Hopscotch is a simple way to practice those skills. (As a bonus, it can help practice number skills, too!)
All you need is some chalk and a sidewalk. If you don’t have a sidewalk to draw on or a playground nearby, but you have a hallway or any floor—you can set up hopscotch indoors using painter’s tape.
Painters tape (if inside)
Gross motor skills are those skills that require whole-body movement and involve the large muscles of the body. It also includes hand-eye coordination. An activity to assist in developing these skills is Throw and Catch. While throwing and catching, a child uses those large arm muscles. To be able to throw the ball to someone or catch a ball coming toward them from someone, a child’s hand-eye coordination must be good.
When throwing indoors, soft, spongy balls or beanbags are recommended. Start with larger balls and gradually move to smaller ones as your child’s skill level increases. Use balloons, deflated beach balls, or soft, spongy balls for children still mastering catching. These items move slower and are more forgiving if a catch is missed.
Remember, children develop at different rates. So, if your child struggles with throw and catch, you can start by rolling a ball back-and-forth on the floor. Rolling back and forth reinforces the same motion they will need to play catch.
Beanbag or soft object to throw
Animal Walk is another activity to help develop gross motor skills. Physical and occupational therapists recommend this activity often because they improve body and hand strength, improve coordination, fine and gross motor skills and spatial awareness.
We have included a chart to help you with this activity. Choose one animal from the chart and spend a few minutes a day having your child “walk” like that animal.
You can ask them to do something like, “Hop like a grasshopper and put this paper in the trash can” or “Crab walk to the bathtub.”
Make it fun! You can even let them make animal noises, too. If you are brave, you can even do the animal walk with them.
Each of these “walks” uses different muscles, builds coordination, and develops gross motor skills.
Here are our first Vroom Tips™ for the course! You will see these in each module going forward.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills generally refer to your child’s ability to control the small movements of the hands and fingers, as well as the small muscles of the face and mouth (tongue). These skills are critical for speaking, eating, and anything that involves the hands. Can you think of an activity that would require the use of fine motor skills?
Did you think of any of these: being able to hold a pencil, crayon, or paintbrush? What about manipulating small pieces of toys and blocks or small doll pieces? Did you think about using a fork and spoon while eating or being able to use scissors? All of these things would be difficult to do if your child’s fine motor skills are not fully developed.
Remember, most PreK-aged children will not have fully developed these fine motor skills. This is totally normal. However, providing ways to practice and strengthen your child’s fine motor skills can be fun and only takes a few minutes a day!
Learning Outcomes for Fine Motor Skills
By the end of this topic learners will be able to:
Differentiate between a fine motor skill and a gross motor skill activity.
Identify three activities they can do with their child that will improve fine motor skills.
Understand the importance of practice and repetition in improving motor skills.
Apply appropriate safety measures when working with their child on fine motor skills.
Can your child manipulate small pieces of toys – blocks, doll pieces, etc.?
Can your child hold and use a pencil, crayon, paintbrush?
Can your child use a fork and spoon to eat?
Can your child use scissors?
Activities for Fine Motor Skills
Below are the activities you can do with your child to support their fine motor skills. Click on the title to reveal the activity content.
Preschool children can trace lines to develop their fine motor skills and practice the skills they need to write. Tracing worksheets are an excellent way to help children practice this important skill. We have provided sheets for you. However, you can make your own sheets by drawing dotted lines on a piece of paper.
Begin with tracing short straight lines and then progress to the more challenging lines with curvy lines and loops. Remind your child to hold the pencil firmly in his dominant hand using the correct pencil grip and use his non-dominant hand to hold the paper steady as he writes.
Note: Pay attention to your child’s hand preference. Children usually start to prefer using one hand over the other around the ages of 2 to 4, but it is common for them to change from time to time. Around ages 4 to 6, clear preference will be established. Children who do not show a preference and switch hands may struggle a little with fine motor tasks like cutting neatly with scissors or writing with a pencil.
Pencil or crayon
Printed tracing handout below, or parent-created handout
Another way to develop fine motor skills is practicing cutting. Using scissors is an acquired but necessary skill. Children need to know how to hold scissors and the proper rules for handling scissors safely. They need to learn what they can and cannot cut and how to use scissors effectively without frustration. This only comes with modeling and practice.
I must warn you that this may not be an easy task for children. When you first give them the scissors, some will grab the handle, put the fingers in any hole, and try cutting, especially if they have watched you cut things. Others will grab the handle and try to use two hands to cut. Remember to be patient.
A good way to approach this is to teach and demonstrate the correct way to use scissors. Then have them practice putting their fingers in the correct holes. Then move on to having your child practice opening and closing the scissors. When they are comfortable with these two tasks, move on to cutting pieces of paper with no lines and then move to cutting along dotted lines when they are ready.
Just like tracing, we want to start with simple straight lines. Then progress to cutting curves and shapes when your child is ready. We have provided some cutting sheets, but remember, you can make your own by drawing dotted lines on paper.
Child safety scissors
Printed handout, below, or parent-created handout
An activity to develop fine motor skills is stringing beads on a pipe cleaner. Stringing beads requires your child to use their hands in a very purposeful way. Think about the fine motor skills it takes for your child to pick up small beads, turn them the right way, align them to a pipe cleaner, and string them on. This activity helps develop fine motor skills because stringing the beads uses similar hand movements like gripping a pencil. Practicing this activity over and over will help your child hold a pencil or crayon when writing and drawing at school.
To do this activity, you need some beads and a pipe cleaner. Have your child pick a bead and put it on the pipe cleaner. We recommend that you pour a few beads into a small dish or bowl and bend one end of the pipe cleaner so that the beads won’t fall off.
During this activity, you can even discuss the colors and shapes of the beads and make a pattern as you string them.
Beads or macaroni pasta (any pasta with holes)
String, yarn or pipe cleaners
In the first years of a child’s life, they grow at a rapid pace. So, as their first teachers, parents must provide them with experiences that help them develop skills that are important for later success in school and life.
Fine and gross motor skills develop only through practice and more practice. As these large and small muscles repeat motions over and over, those muscles remember the movements and become automatic. So parents, let’s provide lots of opportunities for our little ones to move and develop their gross and fine motor skills.
They need opportunities to move and learn to control their finger muscles and strengthen their grip. They need to spend time running, climbing, jumping, and chasing each other. They need to scribble, paint, build, pour, cut with scissors, put puzzles together, and string beads.
As their bodies grow, they become more independent. Providing these rich experiences are important for the development of all children but are especially important for our preschoolers.
Remember with small children, skills develop through practice and repetition.
Also, remember children develop at different rates. So, if your child is not where an older sibling was at this age, or a child of one of your friends. THAT IS OK!!
Just continue to Practice! Practice! Practice!