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Aim

The aim of this article is to help parents and caregivers understand what motor skills are; and then provide a list of activities that can help them build these skills in toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarten-aged children.

Outline

Introduction
Activities and games for gross motor skill development
Ball games, like soccer (football) or teeball
Cycling
Dance
Equestrian sports (horseback riding)
Gymnastics
Swimming
Other activities

Activities and games for fine motor skill development

Introduction

In our memories of childhood, there was rarely a time when we sat absolutely still. Childhood is a time of restlessness and constant activity, as children begin to discover the world around them. From climbing trees to learning how to ride a bicycle, children tend to develop these motor skills through play. Here, we provide a list of activities and games that can help your child develop their gross and fine motor skills.

Activities and games for gross motor skill development

Gross motor skills require large muscle groups in order to carry out movements that usually involve the whole body. When children play outdoors, they are learning to develop these gross motor skills. To continue to develop these skills, parents may want to consider the unique benefits of organized sports and recreational activities.

Ball games, like soccer (football) or teeball

Child having fun and playing football with his dad on a summer vacation.

Little League Tee Ball – a modified version of baseball that is designed for young children – is a program in the United States that is open to players as young as 4. In the United Kingdom, children 5 and over can usually enroll in a youth soccer or football league. Ball games like soccer, football and basketball – as well as racket/racquet sports like tennis – are known to improve hand-eye coordination. In addition, organized sports contribute to a child’s overall health and wellbeing; and help children learn incredibly valuable soft skills, like communication and teamwork.

Cycling

Two children riding a bicycle together.

Learning to ride a bicycle is an exercise in balance, or the ability to keep a controlled body position when performing a specific task. It also takes more than a few attempts to gain complete cycling mastery, so it’s also a terrific way to teach persistence. At 18 months, children start to learn this skill by using balance bikes, or bicycles that have no peddles so that children can focus on balance over movement. Generally, a child will learn to ride a bike without pedals at around age 4.

To the experienced cyclist, the abilities required to keep upright on a bike become second nature. In reality, children will need the following skills to refine their balance and coordination:

  • attention and concentration
  • body awareness, which is also known as proprioreception
  • muscular strength and endurance
  • self-regulation
  • postural control, or keeping control of posture
  • sensory processing

Dance

Children in a ballet class.

Whether a child is gliding across the stage as a beginner or an experienced dancer, dance is an activity that provides children with the opportunity to quickly develop balance and stability. Through dance, children can develop postural control, learn about alignment and become aware of how their bodies move through space, which is known as body awareness or proprioception. In addition, dance styles like ballet often involve more subtle and nuanced movements of the wrists, hands and fingers that other sporting or recreational activities may sometimes overlook. There is usually also a strong cultural component to dance, which is yet another educational component that dance possesses.

Equestrian sports (horseback riding)

There is nothing that inspires the spirit of adventure than the scene of a rider charging into a glorious sunset on a horse. In reality, horseback riding offers tremendous benefits to children who decide to take up the sport; and one of these is the development of gross motor skills. Riding requires a focus on postural control and therefore, the development of strong core muscles; and coordination, since the rider’s movement must be timed with the horse’s. In addition, the relationship between rider and horse is known anecdotally to create a sense of trust and mutual respect – which can be beneficial to young riders.

Gymnastics

Little boy meeting a horse.

Gymnasts never fail to astound us with their exquisitely practiced routines – and as most parents quickly learn, children seem to be naturally good at spinning, rolling and bouncing. Although it is particularly important to guard against injury in this sport, children often find that in less advanced classes, tumbling is an incredibly fun way to exercise. There are classes designed for children as young as 2 that involve teaching pre-schoolers the basic skills that the sport requires, like balance and coordination. These classes also have the benefit of being easily found, as they appear to be offered in most local community centers.

Swimming

A child learning to swim in a pool.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swimming lessons for all children ages 4 or older. This guideline is issued, in part, due to the heightened risk of drowning among children between ages 1 and 2. In addition, the AAP is no longer opposed to aquatics programs for children as young as 1 – although parents should use their own discretion when determining whether their child is developmentally ready for the challenge.

In addition to being a useful and necessary life skill, swimming is excellent for your child’s cardiovascular health. In terms of the development of motor skills, swimming requires balance, postural control and coordination.

Other activities

In this article, we have only provided insight into a few activities that can help your child develop their gross motor skills. In reality, there are countless ways to encourage your children to move. Consult your local community center or speak with your child’s teachers/school staff about available after-school programs for even more ideas.

Activities and games for fine motor skill development

From tying a shoelace to putting a puzzle together, fine motor skills are required to carry out even the most basic tasks. Here, we’ve put together a list of possible activities that can help your child refine these important skills.

Recreational activities

  • Sewing, like threading a kid-friendly and child-sized, plastic needle
  • Knitting, using kits devised for young children
  • Using a games console
  • Coloring
  • Drawing
  • Origami
  • Fingerpainting
  • Practicing handwriting
  • Completing jigsaw puzzles
  • Rolling the dice during a board game
  • Learning to play a musical instrument, like guitar

Daily activities or life skills

  • Dressing themselves, like using buttons and zips)
  • Personal care, like brushing their teeth
  • Using tableware, like utensils
  • Twisting doorknobs
  • Assisting with meal preparation by stirring or mixing
  • Setting the dinner table
  • Pouring drinks
  • Using a cookie cutter during baking
  • Opening and closing food containers, like Tupperware

Miscellaneous activities

  • Tracing shapes, letters or numbers
  • Using LEGOs or other building blocks
  • Popping bubbles in bubble wrap using the index finger and thumb
  • Using an eyedropper to add color to play-dough
  • Wrapping rubber-bands around a can
  • Using tweezers to drop items from a table-top to a bowl