Daily Activities to Increase Gross Motor Skills in Children

Gross motor skills are necessary for children to develop physical coordination, cognitive development, and emotional regulation.

Children love running, jumping, and climbing! These are not only fun but vital to their physical development. Physical activities that use large body movements are considered gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are necessary for children to develop physical coordination, cognitive development, and emotional regulation. These are essential skills that help children build long-term health. Many of today’s children spend most of their day indoors watching a screen or sitting at a desk. These activities can limit gross motor skill development. Parents and caregivers should make a focused effort to ensure that children are experiencing enough of these critical movements.

The CDC recommends that children get a minimum of sixty minutes of physical activity per day (1). Currently, only 1 in 3 children gets the recommended physical activity every day. Children need to participate in a gross motor activity to develop neural pathways in the brain. These neural pathways affect long-term bone density and coordination in the body (2). Gross motor activity also releases endorphins which have been shown to help the development of emotional regulation skills and improve mood.

As caregivers, it is our responsibility to make sure that children are having their needs met. At least an hour a day of gross motor activity is needed to ensure optimal physical and cognitive development. This activity does not have to happen in one chunk of time. It can be divided up throughout the day – perhaps two thirty-minute activity breaks, or ten minutes at a time of concentrated movement. There are ways to fit this into the daily schedule for all ages.

Baby sitting with teddy bear

Allow newborns to have free movement of their arms and legs for a few minutes at a time. Make sure they also have time on their stomachs and encourage them to move. As they get older and begin to crawl and cruise, games can be introduced. Get the child to chase an adult or roll a ball gently towards them. A ball or a desired object, such as a favorite stuffed animal, or brightly colored board book, can also be placed just out of reach for a newly mobile child and rolled farther for one that is cruising along.

Older children usually need a little more room to move. Even when it is raining, hot, or cold, children should spend at least thirty minutes outdoors. It is safe for properly attired children to go outside for twenty minutes at a time in temperatures as low as a 13-degree wind chill and as high as a heat index of 100 degrees (3). Caregivers should be alert to signs that a child is too cold or overheating.

It is essential for adults to join in the activities with the children. Encourage toddlers and older children to run as fast as they can. Provide obstacles for them to climb on and over, and balls to throw, catch, and chase after. This keeps the children more enthusiastic in their participation in the activity. Studies have also shown that witnessing adults participating in physical activities with children increases a child’s confidence and increases the amount of gross motor activity they engage in as adults (4).

woman exercising with child

There are extreme temperature and weather days, and, honestly, days when we adults just can’t make ourselves be as physically active as we should. Setting up indoor activities can be an alternative to outdoor games and exercise. Without enough exercise, children tend to act out and may not realize why they are feeling or behaving in a different way. One idea for indoor play is clearing a space or hallway. Use this space to give stop and go commands and instruct children to take giant steps, hops, or run if the space allows. Painter’s tape can be used to create a hopscotch board or a maze. Yarn can make a fun obstacle course for children to wade through. Using softballs or aluminum foil balls, children can play throw and catch. Targets can be made using painter’s tape, a wastebasket, or a pile of pillows. Preschool and elementary-aged children enjoy Simon Says or playing with a blown-up balloon. Speaking of balloons, a paper plate makes a great “tennis racket” for indoor play (5).

Children want to run, jump and move. Keeping their health and development in mind, caretakers should encourage this play and find opportunities to allow and promote gross motor skills development. Reducing screen time means handling sad faces and temper tantrums, but it is important to keep in mind a child’s long-term health. Another benefit of these activities is that exercise helps children with self-regulation and managing their overall mood throughout the day.

To learn more, an Understanding Children course is available with enrollment in the Basic Childcare program.

  1. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Be Active, Healthy, and Happy! U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2008.
  2. Bass, S., et al. “Exercise Before Puberty May Confer Residual Benefits in Bone Density in Adulthood: Studies in Active Prepubertal and Retired Female Gymnasts.” Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, vol. 13, no. 3, Jan. 1998, pp. 500–507. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1359/jbmr.1998.13.3.500.“
  3. How Cold Is Too Cold for Kids to Play Outside.” A Healthier Michigan, 21 Dec. 2016, www.ahealthiermichigan.org/2014/01/28/how-cold-is-too-cold-for-kids-to-play-outside/.
  4. HHS Office, and Council on Sports. “Facts & Statistics.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 26 Jan. 2017, www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html.
  5. G, Anna, et al. “Indoor Gross Motor Activities for Preschool and Kindergarten.” The Measured Mom, 6 July 2018, www.themeasuredmom.com/indoor-gross-motor-activities/.
  6. Hnatiuk, Jill, and Kylie Hesketh. “What Is Physical Activity in Early Childhood, and Is It Really That Important?” The Conversation, The Conversation, 30 Sept. 2018, theconversation.com/what-is-physical-activity-in-early-childhood-and-is-it-really-that-important-63403.

Summer Food Fun for Kids

Summer is a wonderful time to be creative with food for kids of all ages and to get them to try new things.

fruit on bagel halves

Summer is here and we all have our favorite summer foods – meat on the grill, fresh corn on the cob, berries and other fresh fruits. Summer is also a wonderful time to be creative with food for kids of all ages and to get them to try new things. From trips to the farmer’s market to harvesting a backyard garden, there are a ton of ways to introduce children to the variety of nutritious foods available in the summer. The next time you are in the fruit and vegetable section, let the children pick out a new food to try. Here are some other age appropriate activities to help children learn about food and nutrition.

Toddlers like to play with food and it teaches them fine motor skills. So, it’s fun to transform eating healthy a craft project. Cut various fruits and vegetables into different shapes and let the children create art on their plate. You can use various things for the base – try bagels which can bet cut and laid out to form a “snake” and decorated with cream cheese, peanut butter, fruit, seeds, and nuts. Then, take a picture to show off their work! While creating and after it’s complete – let the kids dive in a try the various parts of their art project!

Preschool children can create their own shapes, letters, and numbers from various fruits and vegetables. Grab the cookie cutters (the metal kind are best) and make stars from pineapple slices and hearts from watermelon. Use wooden skewers and create ‘stick people’ or kabobs from apple slices, carrot sticks, and cherry tomatoes. When grilling, let the kids pick the vegetables that will be grilled with the meat so they each have their own personalized veggie side. Kids are more likely to eat vegetables they picked out.

Older children usually love smoothies. Have a selection of fruits and vegetables available. Encourage the children to try new combinations and analyze the ingredients with respect to nutrients to develop healthier smoothies that they love to drink. Carrot juice may sound funny to kids but when mixed with bananas and strawberries, it can add some healthy nutrients to the natural sugars in the fruit. Not all smoothies have to be sweet and full of fruit. Encourage the use of vegetables such spinach and kale to increase the nutritional value and expose the children to different tastes.

4th of july themes popsicles

Everyone loves dessert and summer is the best time for frozen goodies! Home-made ice cream is always a huge hit and each person can add their own toppings. You can also make your own yogurt pops with berries or nuts. Fresh lemonade can be frozen as well as low sugar grape juice. Let them freeze and enjoy a special cold treat on a hot summer day.

8 Classic Games to Play with Kids this Summer

Here are 8 favorite summer games and activities that will make you remember the old days while making new memories for children.

Do you remember all the fun you had playing games as a child? Maybe you lived in a neighborhood where all the kids rode bikes together or went to the community pool. Maybe you built a lemonade stand or just watched a lot of Saturday morning cartoons. Those days were fun and of course, we’d like to create the same type of memories with our children or the children in our care. Here are 8 favorite summer games and activities that will make you remember the old days while making new memories for children.

1. Hide and Seek. This game is great for all ages because you can ‘hide’ in plain sight or behind a curtain for toddlers and preschoolers with challenging hiding places like in cabinets or closets for older children. Make sure children can’t get stuck or hurt in hiding places. You can even play a version in the pool, known as Marco Polo. Just have one person close their eyes, say, “Marco” and all players have to respond with, “Polo”. The sightless seeker listens for players to swim towards and tag.

2. Capture the Flag. For younger children, it’s a simple game of hiding the flag and having the children find it. Older children can be divided into teams and can strategize how to protect their flag while seeking their opponents. For middle schoolers and older kids, a taser tag element can be added so that opponents are knocked out of the game.

Fly a Kite with Your Kids (and Teach Them a Bit of Engineering)3. Kite Flying. Kites are also fin for all ages – from putting them together to getting them in the air. Younger children can be awed by helping a kite get launched or being able to hold the string as it flutters above. High school aged children may try kite blading – using a kite with inline skates or a skateboard.

4. Climbing. Children often begin climbing in the house on furniture, but many also enjoy climbing outdoors. Climbing can be as simple as a toddler walking on a fallen log or scaling a tree in a nearby park – with close supervision of course. For older children who are interested in advance techniques with helmets, harnesses, and ropes, there are often professionally lead high rope obstacle courses nearby. These courses may include free climbing, self-belayed, or lead climbing depending on type of climbing.

family playing a board game5. Board Games. Everyone seems to have their favorite board game. There are many to choose from and they run the gamut of ages from toddler through adult. Younger children can play simple board games and matching card games. They don’t really strategize, so simple games of chance are best. Older children have more critical thinking skills and generally enjoy games that require strategic thinking over simple games of chance.

6. Water Games. Water fun can take many forms – playing in a kiddie pool, running and jumping through a sprinkler, and swimming in a pool or lake. Always have an adult to supervise children in the pool. Even if they know how to swim, they can get in trouble. Whether it’s creating a slip and slide, a game of water balloons or shooting water guns, kids love to cool off in the summer.

7. Bikes and Go-Karts. Summer is a great time for tricycles, training wheels, and the freedom of riding a bike. Whether it’s riding around the neighborhood or going on nature trails, children will enjoy getting out. Younger children may enjoy riding around the neighborhood or a short ride on a bike trail. Older children may enjoy longer rides with stops at favorite places like the ice cream store. Instead of riding a bike, older children may be more interested in using the summer to build go-karts and have a few races to see which design works best.

Mother playing with children in bedroom8. King or Queen of the Fort. Great for all ages, forts can be built indoors or outside. On rainy days, a fort can be created with blankets draped across the living room furniture. Outside, a tarp or tent can be used to create the fort. Costumes and props can be used to enhance the fantasy feeling. A play could be added to transform the fort into a movie set. For older children, designs can be drafted, and supplies provided to build a clubhouse using cardboard, a heavy-duty staple gun, and duct tape.

Summer is a great time to connect with children and have some genuine fun. Playing games with family and friends can make an ordinary summer day memorable. Use the summer as a time to play with your children or the children in your care. Hopefully, these games and other classics will be fun!

5 Steps to Create an Educational Preschool Activity

These five steps will help you plan successful preschool activities.

Think back to the days of your childhood. What are you reminded of? Are you reflecting on times of messy play and skinned knees? These are important memories and developmental activities. So how does a Nanny or Babysitter help create engaging early childhood experiences that leave a lasting impression? These five steps will help you plan successful preschool activities:

boy sitting in sunflower field

1. Learn the child’s interests

In order for an activity to be successful, the child must be interested and engaged. Consider the child’s interests. Does the child enjoy dramatic play? Have you observed the child engaged in manipulative play such as puzzles or sorting games? Does the child engage in building with blocks or other items? Is the child always asking you to read to them? Do messy art activities keep them engaged? Is the child always asking questions about the way things work? Does the child enjoy playing with items with lots of texture or things that can be manipulated?

By understanding the child’s likes and dislikes, an activity can be created that engages their interests and incorporates areas of development or improvement specific to the individual child’s needs.

2. Consider areas of development

The areas of development include social and emotional development, physical development, language development, and cognitive development. In order to create an effective preschool activity, a child’s individual development needs to be nurtured. Where is the child at developmentally? What skills need to be practiced? This will help to determine your activity.

3. Decide if child-directed or adult-directed

A child-directed or child-centered activity is led by the child where the child engages in play with the materials or others in any way the child wishes. Alternatively, an adult-directed activity is when the adult has the say-so in the direction of the activity or how the materials for the activity will be used.

There are benefits to both child-directed and adult-directed activities. Child-directed activities enhance self-control, strengthen self-regulation skills, increase self-confidence, and improve attention span to name a few. Adult-directed activities emphasize academic concepts, specify objectives and have clear goals and expectations.

girl in ball pit

4. Get supplies needed

Does the activity require specific supplies or materials? If you do not have the exact supplies needed, can those materials be substituted for something that is readily available? Keep in mind that an activity can be planned around the materials you have readily available to you.

5. Have fun

As you set up the activity, be excited so your positive energy can be inviting to the child. If adult-directed, remember to explain and demonstrate the activity so the child knows how to play.

There are a lot of preschool activities to choose from and here are a few ideas. For children who enjoy crafts, cut out small circles and squares in a variety of colors using construction paper. Then, have the child place the circles and squares in patterns using the letters of the alphabet. This will teach the child about colors, shapes, patterns, and create a foundational understanding of letters. You can alternate between adult and child-directed so the child does one letter, and then does a design of their own.

girl reading book to stuffed animals

For children who enjoy throwing balls, you can create an indoor snowball game. Using white paper, have the child crinkle the paper into ‘snowballs’. Then, set up baskets throughout the room and practice getting points by throwing the snowball into the baskets. You can make the game more challenging with a blindfold or by standing on one leg. This game will help with gross motor skills, coordination, and balance.

For children interested in discovering new things, you can create a mystery bag. From the toy chest or the dollar store, get about 20 items and place them in a paper bag or tote bag. Have the child pull out a toy, name it and then sort it by color, size, or shape. This game will be fun as they ‘discover’ the toys while learning colors, sorting, and practice speaking.

To learn more, a PreSchool course is available with enrollment in the Intermediate Childcare program at AmsleeInstitute.com.

About the Author. Jena Paulo has a Master of Science in Education from California State University and a Bachelor of Art in Human Development from California State University. Jena is a Head Preschool teacher, Preschool Director, Online and an adjunct faculty member of Amslee Institute.

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