Preschool Ready: Activities for Gross Motor Development

This month’s Preschool Ready series post includes some fun activities for little ones aged 0-5 to help develop their gross motor skills. According to the NAPA (Neurological and Physical Abilitation) Center, “gross motor skills are the abilities required to control the muscles of the body for large movements such as crawling, walking, jumping running, and more. They also include higher level skills such as climbing, skipping, and throwing and catching a ball.”

Gross motor skills are developed at all stages of life from birth to adulthood. The NAPA Center has a great resource outlining what to look for in terms of gross motor development for each age group from newborns through 5-years-old.

With all this in mind, below are some fun activities you can do to help support your little one’s gross motor development:  

1. Action-Specific Dance Songs

Encourage your little one to dance along with you to some of these action-specific songs.

  • “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”
  • “If You’re Happy and You Know It”
  • “Hokey-Pokey”

For infants – focus on bounce rhymes or working with them to manipulate their body parts along with the song.

2. At-Home Obstacle Course Game

Build an obstacle course using materials in your home and encourage your little one to go through it. Use sheets over chairs, cushions or pillows, bowls or pots to jump-over. Get creative and have fun!

If you’re little one is old enough, encourage them to build their own obstacle course to try out!

Another fun way to do this activity would be through the game of “Don’t Touch the Lava” which requires those playing to hop from designated spots (or cushions/pillows/furniture) to other designated spots without touching the “lava” (aka the floor).

For infants – you can make the obstacle course a crawling one!

3. Outdoor Balance Activities

Learning to balance is a key aspect of gross motor development. Try out one of these outdoor balance activities with your little one:

  • Hop-Scotch
  • Draw or crate a balance beam to walk across (or practice walking across a small bridge)
  • Go on a hike or walk
    • Try to walk or hike in different places like parks or trails to encourage your little one to experience walking over different terrains. This will help them with balance along with their walking skills.

For infants – bring tummy time outside to have them explore moving or crawling on different surfaces.

4. Rolling and Playing with Balls

There’s a reason small children like to play with toy balls — not only is it fun to throw things, but children are also developing some gross motor skills and body muscles. Try out these fun ways to interact with toy balls:

  • Sit together on the ground and roll the ball between you. Have your little one focus on trying to keep the ball rolling on the ground and not bouncing up into the air.
  • Play catch! Practice with your little one on throwing the ball and catching it either by themselves or to you.
  • Play hot-potato! If your little one is old enough, try playing this fun passing game to get them used to handling and passing the ball quickly.
  • Sorting game! A lot of times little ones love to sort items. Encourage your little one to pick up any toy balls and walk them over and place them in a bucket or on a designated spot to allow them to practice bending over and also walking with an object in their hand.

For infants – try rolling a ball when they’re doing tummy time or when they’re at the point of sitting up.

5. Climbing Activities!

While we don’t always like to encourage climbing, there is a time and place that encouraging your little one to climb can be super beneficial to their gross motor development. Try out one of these ways with your little one:

  • River rocks or cardboard boxes
    • Place out cardboard boxes or plastic river stones or other objects for your little one to stand on. Then encourage them to practice standing up on the object and then stepping down off the object. You can increase the challenge by making into a “Don’t Touch the Lava” game.
  • Climbing up and going down a slide
  • Climbing up to sit in a chair
  • Using stairs

For infants — focus on your little one learning to stand. This “pulling themselves up” to a standing position is a precursor to climbing.

For more ideas and information, check out these books in our collection: