Gross Motor Skills for Preschoolers

Active play helps your little one develop large motor skills.

Gross motor skills for preschoolers - dancing
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Little kids need to spend a lot of time (hours every day!) on activities that target gross motor skills. For preschoolers, this kind of active play is important for good health and for physical development. Learning to use the large muscles in their legs, arms, and trunk to run, jump, throw, catch, and kick is key to the healthy growth of their bodies and brains. But it's also fun!

Gross Motor Skills for Preschoolers - Try These Games and Activities

  • Dancing, either freestyle or through songs with movements, such as "I'm a Little Teapot," "The Wheels on the Bus," or "Popcorn": I'm a piece of popcorn, put me in a pan/Shake me, shake me, as fast as you can (child shimmies, shakes, and jumps)/And I ... will ... (child crouches down low) ... POP!" (child jumps as high as he can). Dance and movement classes, like pre-ballet or tumbling, can be fun but aren't necessary for motor-skills development. It's more important that kids simply have time and opportunity to move their bodies.

  • Walking around the house, neighborhood, or park. For variety, add in marching, jogging, skipping, hopping, or even musical instruments to form a parade. As you walk, tell stories, look for colors, count, or play games.
  • Swimming and other water play.
  • Balancing: Have your child walk on a piece of string or tape, a low beam or plank at the playground, or a homemade balance beam.
  • Playing pretend: Kids boost gross motor skills when they use their bodies to become waddling ducks, stiff-legged robots, galloping horses, soaring planes—whatever their imagination comes up with!
  • Riding tricycles, scooters, and other ride-on toys
  • Pulling or pushing wagons, large trucks, doll strollers, or shopping carts.
  • Building and navigating obstacle courses–indoors with furniture, pillows, boxes, blankets; outdoors with rocks, logs, or playground equipment.
  • Throwing, catching, kicking, and rolling large, lightweight, soft balls.
  • Playing tag or other classic backyard games, such as Follow the Leader, Red Light/Green Light, Tails, or Simon Says (avoid or modify games that force kids to sit still or to be eliminated from play, such as Duck Duck Goose or musical chairs).
  • Swinging, sliding, and climbing at a playground or indoor play space.
  • Large-scale arts and crafts activities.

Fine Motor Skills for Preschoolers

Kids this age are also working on fine motor skills. Although those develop a bit later, they are crucial for important tasks like holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, using silverware to eat, and so on. The following activities, and others like them, help your children strengthen and learn to use the small muscles in their fingers and hands.

  • Sand play: Pouring, scooping, sifting, building
  • Puppet shows
  • Sidewalk chalk or any art project, like finger painting or playing with clay
  • Finger plays (songs such as "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" that have accompanying hand movements)
  • Cooking: includes pouring, shaking, sprinkling, kneading, tearing, cutting with butter knife
  • Lacing cards or stringing beads
  • Coloring and tracing with crayons, pencils, or markers
  • Cutting with safety scissors
  • Manipulative toys such as blocks, puzzles, or dolls with clothes to take on and off

Provide your preschooler with plenty of time to work all her muscles, big and small. They all have to work together to help her succeed! 

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