Does your child struggle coordinating his eyes with the rest of his body?
Children with gross motor issues often expend a great deal of effort performing even simple actions like skipping, catching a ball, or jumping rope. And while most children are able to perform these activities without thinking, each activity strains a child’s memory as much as their muscles.
Consider a simple game of dodge ball, for example. In order for your child to successfully throw a ball at another child, she must coordinate several actions at once. She needs to accurately gauge the speed at which the other child is moving, as well as guess which direction the other child might take.
At the same moment, however, she has to guess the angle and the speed at which to throw the ball. If you add in the fact that this all has to be done within the space of a few seconds, then you can probably imagine how frustrating this might be for a child whose gross motor skills aren’t up to par.
In fact, good gross motor skills (or lack thereof) are one of the ways children judge each other’s overall capability and success. A boy who can’t kick or catch a ball, and a girl who trips constantly while jumping rope, are unfortunately looked upon as less of a “boy” or “girl” than their more competent peers.
Being good at various types of athletic activities also gives kids a way to channel their natural competitiveness, showing how “cool” they are in a very public venue. After all, who gets more publicity and adulation than the school’s top athletes?
And while it is true that some children seem to be born with wings on their feet, your child doesn’t need to learn to fly in order to improve their gross motor skills. Here is a list of 7 activities you can play with your child (preferably without an audience!) that will help them master the basics:
1) Walking on the line. While this is a standard game in Montessori schools worldwide, it’s also an easy game you can play at home. Simply place a piece of masking tape on the floor in the shape of a half circle. It should be long enough for your child to go at least 30 steps.
Have your child practice walking forward, backwards, and sideways on the line. Once your child masters that, you can have her practice carrying things while on the line: for example, a tray with a glass full of water, or a lighted candle. You can also vary the game by playing music, fast or slow, depending on what skill you want your child to master.
2) Use a balancing beam. In order to play this game, you needn’t buy an expensive balance beam. You can make one easily enough with a plank of wood, and two bricks or concrete blocks. A low wall is also a good choice – and you won’t have to worry about storing anything, either.
Practice the same sorts of activities as above, gradually increasing the height of the bricks as your child becomes more proficient.
3) Place rope loops on the floor. You can use ropes, or small hoops for this game. Encourage your child to practice first walking in and out of each loop without falling. Then, have them pick up the pace, using music if that’s easier for them to follow.
Once they master walking, try having them jump, skip, or hop in and out of the loops.
4) Roll a ball with their feet to a partner. Have your child sit down on the floor. Explain to them that the object of the game is to kick the ball to their partner, without touching the ball in any way. If they are able to kick the ball straight to the target area (have the partner spread their feet apart), then they get a point.
If the other person misses the ball, then they get another point. Mix things up a bit by putting a time limit on the game.
5) Practice various jump rope activities. Games such as jumping over a wriggling rope, hopping over a slightly raised rope, and plain jump rope are great ways of helping your child strengthen her gross motor skills. Spice things up a little by singing a few jump rope chants.
6) Monkey bars are a great way of strengthening the upper body and arm muscles. You can encourage your child to use their own muscles, but provide support for them by holding them midway between the knees and the feet. This gives them the security of being held but still allows them to practice holding on and swinging themselves from one bar to the next.
7) Schoolyard games such as kickball, dodge ball, and high jump are also good ways of practicing more complex motor skills. The bonus: your child will be less embarrassed to play them at school if he gets to practice (again, in private-go to a park a distance away from your house if necessary) in a less stressful environment.
These games are actually great for the whole family. Why not make a family sports day once a week, and let your whole family have a chance to exercise, and spend quality time together?