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How to Enhance Your Child’s Gross Motor Skills

Posted on March 1, 2020 by Ann

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Written by Natalia Szukalska and La Min Maung (SPD’s Physiotherapists)

Working on your child’s gross motor skills at an early stage helps to set the foundation for developing more complex skills as they grow. In this article, we will share some activities that you can do with your child to help develop or improve their gross motor skills.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills refer to the movements of the large muscles in the body, such as muscles in the shoulders, arms, trunk, hips, or legs.

Infants typically develop gross motor skills in sequence, starting from their heads to their feet. This means that they will develop control of their neck muscles first, followed by their shoulders, arms, trunk, hips, and then legs.

Holding Head Up

Head control helps in the development of movements such as crawling, sitting, and walking. Newborns typically have little head control as their neck muscles are still fairly weak. Tummy time is one of the common ways to help build up muscles in the neck and shoulders. You can make tummy time more comfortable for your child by laying them tummy-down on items, such as pillows, water mats, or therapy balls.

Placing your child tummy-down on a therapy ball is one way to help build up neck and shoulder muscles

However, children (especially children with Down syndrome or cerebral palsy) who have tight or rigid (high muscle tone) or floppy (low muscle tone) muscles may struggle when they lay flat on their tummies. Try placing them in slightly vertical positions to make it easier for them to hold up their heads. You can do this by sitting in a reclined position on a sofa or a bed and placing your baby on your chest. Support the baby’s underarms, if needed.

Placing your child in more vertical positions can help them hold their head up more easily

You can gradually increase the number of tummy time sessions per day, with each session lasting one minute or less. Tummy time can also be incorporated into your child’s daily routines, for instance, after changing a diaper or before feeding. For older children, you can do it during storytelling time or when watching television.

Rolling

Typically, children first start to roll from their tummies to their backs, then from their backs to their tummies. Rolling enables them to experience the movement of the entire body, strengthen their neck, trunk, arms, and legs muscles, and improve their coordination. It is also their way of moving around until they learn to crawl.

Here are some ways to encourage your child to roll:

    • Practise with your child on a soft surface, for example, on a mat.
    • Place your child’s favourite toy in the direction where you want him or her to roll towards or use a musical toy to encourage your child to move towards the sound.
    • To help your child roll from the side onto the tummy, bend his or her knee and press it gently to guide the movement.

To encourage rolling, place your child’s favourite toy in the direction where you want them to roll towards

To help your child roll from the side onto the tummy, bend his or her knee and press it gently to guide the movement.

Sitting

Sitting helps to develop a child’s back and core muscles. It also gives your child a new way of seeing and interacting with the environment, playing with toys and socialising with others.

Here are some ways to encourage your child to sit:

    • Reduce the support given gradually while ensuring your child’s safety.
    • Practise supported sitting, for instance, by using a big plush toy that the child could lean onto for support when needed.
    • Use your child’s favorite toys, songs, or videos during practice.
    • Coax your child to reach for toys when sitting unsupported.

Encourage your child to reach for toys when sitting unsupported.

Crawling

Crawling is a good exercise to help a child build strong trunk, arms, and legs. The alternating movements of using an arm on one side and a knee on the other while crawling helps the child to work on his or her coordination, which is needed for walking.

If your child struggles with it, start by placing your child on his or her hands and knees for a few seconds and increasing the duration gradually. You can place a bolster under the tummy or place them across your thigh. When your child builds up enough strength, you can place your child’s favorite toys at a short distance from them and encourage your child to crawl and get them.

Crawling is a good exercise to help a child build strong trunk, arms and legs.

Walking

Before children start to walk, they will first need to learn how to stand properly. To help children learn to stand, you can get them to play with toys in a supported kneeling position before gradually progressing to standing. When your child is playing or watching television, encourage your child to stand, but ensure that there is a steady object nearby that he or she can grab for support.

When your child is confident in standing, you can start to train him or her to walk. Cruising is one method: Place a favorite toy on one end of the sofa to encourage your child to walk towards it, while being able to hold on to the sofa for support. You can also introduce walking by getting your child to push a baby chair with a favorite toy on it or by getting him or her play with a push toy.

Cruising, where the child uses sturdy furniture as a support, is one way to train your child to walk.

You can also encourage your child to walk by getting him or her to play with a push toy.

Jumping

You can teach your child to jump by getting him or her to practise squatting first. Place small toys that he or she can easily grab, like a small ball, on the floor and encourage him or her to pick it up. After your child has mastered squatting, you can introduce jumping down from a small step while holding your child’s hands. Keep encouraging and praising your child for his or her effort. Next, you can demonstrate jumping up or jump over a line. Do remind your child to bend both knees before jumping.

L-R: Encourage your child to jump by first getting him or her to squat. You can then introduce jumping by holding his or her hands, and later by jumping over a line.

Ball Skills

Ball skills are great for improving strength, balance, hand-eye coordination, and timing. Children can also enhance their play and social skills by playing together with their peers and family members.

Here are some activities that can be carried out with a ball:

    • Children learn to roll a ball, followed by throwing the ball underhand, and finally throwing the ball overhand.
    • Catching is the most challenging activity for young children. It requires focus, good hand-eye coordination, and timing. Start with throwing a small beach ball 1 to 2 metres away from your child.
    • Kicking a ball is a fun way for children to learn weight transfer from one side of the body to the other, which is a necessary skill for walking. They will also learn how to balance on one leg.

L-R: Throwing a ball, catching a ball, and kicking a ball are fun ways to improve the child’s strength, balance, hand-eye coordination, and timing

The activities mentioned in this article are some suggestions on how you can help your child develop gross motor skills while having fun at the same time. If you have any questions on how to implement these activities for your child, please speak to your child’s physiotherapist.

 

References

  1. Teaching Motor Skills to Children with Cerebral Palsy and Similar Movement Disorders: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, second edition (2007), Sieglinde Martin
  2. Gross Motor Skills for Children with Down Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, second Edition (2013), Patricia C. Winders
  3. Parents’ Guide to Fine Versus Gross Motor Skills, Pathways – Accessed on 23 July 2019
  4. Normal Development, Physiopedia – Accessed on 25 July 2019


SPD is an All In Preferred Partner.

SPD is a charity in Singapore set up to help people with disabilities of all ages to maximise their potential and integrate them into mainstream society.

This guide was originally published by SPD and republished with minor editorial amendments by All In.

All content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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