Locomotor Skills

Running is one of the locomotor skills
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Locomotor skills are the group of gross motor skills that includes one of the biggest physical development milestones of all for young children: Walking! Locomotor skills are those in which the feet move the body from one place to another.

Types of Locomotor Skills

Roughly in order of how children learn them, the locomotor skills are:

  • Walking: One foot is always on the ground
  • Running: Sometimes both feet are in the air
  • Hopping: Up and down, on one foot
  • Jumping: Up and down, with both feet; can also mean jumping off a height or jumping forward
  • Galloping: One foot is always in the lead
  • Sliding: A sideways gallop
  • Leaping: Jumping forward or back with one leg outstretched; taking off on one foot and landing on the other
  • Skipping: Alternating steps and hops

When and How Locomotor Skills Develop

Most children learn to walk at approximately one year old, and to run, hop, and jump at two. They begin to master the more complex skills of galloping, skipping, sliding, and leaping at about age three. Children need some instruction to learn these skills, especially the more challenging ones.

Toddlers and preschoolers need lots of opportunity to practice these locomotor skills. Most will enjoy these "practice" sessions. They shouldn't feel like a workout class, just a fun playtime! Kids need freedom and space for this kind of play, so make sure their daycare or preschool is offering enough of those.

Make it a game: Simple activities, like follow the leader or Simon Says, can encourage physical play that builds skills. When you're walking anywhere with your child, indoors or out, show him how to vary his movements. Speed up, slow down, swing your arms, walk on tiptoe. Play modified (read, simplified) versions of bigger-kids' games, like relay races and hopscotch, that require locomotion.

On longer walks, incorporate challenging skills like galloping. 

If Your Child Is Struggling

If you are concerned about your child's physical development, check with her doctor or your school district's early intervention program (in the U.S.). And try these activities at home.

To work on walking skilfully and steadily: Set up ropes or strips of tape and have your child walk between them, or place small objects (like beanbags) on the floor for her to step over. Draw wavy lines with chalk or tape and challenge her to follow them. Make footprints from paper and have your child follow them—or outside, let her step in puddles or snow and make her own prints, then follow them.

To build running skills: Play racing games, and sports that involve running, such as soccer. Have your child run with a goal in mind: Saving his favorite stuffed animal from a pretend roaring river (really the hallway rug), for example.

To encourage jumping: Let her jump in a place where it's usually not allowed, such as off her bed into your arms.

Try a mini trampoline, or show her how she can jump safely from a surface that's just slightly elevated (like the beam edging a playground area). Then work up to higher surfaces. To help your child jump higher, tape target pictures to the wall and have her try to jump up and tag them. You can use any kind of pictures that will motivate your child.

To practice galloping: Use a hula hoop around the waist like the reins on a horse. Start with you being the horse, inside the hoop, and your child being the rider. He's outside of the hoop, holding on to it, following you as you gallop forward. This way he can see how your feet are moving. Then switch and let him try being the galloping horse.

To help with skipping: Have your child skip while touching a wall to help her balance. Sing songs while skipping; the rhythm helps your child follow the step/hop, step/hop pattern.

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