Teaching Motor Skills

Physical Therapy Exercises for Gross Motor Development

Water Activities

Anything relating to water is especially appealing to your child in warm weather. Swimming, even if it means doing the "doggy paddle" while wearing a life jacket, strengthens your child's upper body as she reaches and pulls through the water and kicks her legs. For younger children, leaping through the sprinkler or running around with friends trying to dodge a rotating sprinkler builds coordination and strength in her legs and core, according to Angie Dorrell, M.A., NAEYC accreditation validator and former commissioner, for Early Childhood News.

Open Space Exercises

Skipping, hopping and leaping are exciting and versatile, particularly when there's an alternative goal, like jumping between two lines or leaping over a pillow. Most physical therapists work by setting small yet challenging goals for your child to accomplish using a few basic items. Stretch a jump rope into a straight line and have him hop down the line with two feet, then one foot, eventually hopping back and forth over the line. Leaping between two points on a padded or carpeted floor, and gradually increasing the distance between those points, is another way to encourage gross motor development.

Throwing Exercises

Throwing and catching weighted objects, such as bean bags or light-weight medicine balls, can target your child's arms, shoulders, back and torso. Catching these same objects can also improve balance because she must tighten and stabilize her core muscles against the impact of the ball. For younger children, start with large, inflatable balls over a short distance the she can easily catch. As her skills improve, practice playing catch with balls of different weight, shape and size.

Repetitive Exercises

Exercises that require your child to repeat a motion continuously, such as pedaling a tricycle, can build endurance and coordination. Pedaling a training bike with his feet, jumping on a miniature exercise trampoline or bouncing on a bouncy ball while gripping the exterior handle are all activities that require your child to stabilize his core muscles while coordinating the large muscles in his legs.

Exercises to Strengthen Fine Motor Skills

Drawing and Painting

Drawing a picture with a crayon, tracing shapes and painting a picture with a paintbrush all require purposeful muscle control in the fingers, hands and wrists, thereby strengthening fine-motor skills. Encourage your little one to draw or paint in a variety of positions, including standing at an easel and sitting at table for maximum muscle versatility. Provide different sizes and shapes of materials so he can work different muscles, recommends HighPoint.org. Crayons, markers, chalk, and paint brushes of different thicknesses each require slightly different pressure and hand position.

Practical Life Exercises

Fastening and undoing snaps, buckles and fabric fasteners require careful, methodical hand and finger movement, which is why the National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends these activities for strengthening fine-motor skills in children. A younger child can strengthen her motor skills by snapping and unsnapping shirts, pulling zippers and fastening Velcro. An older child can continue strengthening her fine-motor skills by performing more challenging tasks such as buttoning shirts, buckling belts and shoes, and securing hook and eye clasps.

Manipulating and Molding

Materials your child can sculpt and manipulate with his hands and small tools exercise the muscles that affect fine-motor skills. For a younger child, molding a small castle from soft, wet sand requires hand and finger coordination and strength. He can also pound, mash and manipulate play dough. An older child working with play dough strengthens the muscles in his hands and fingers by operating small shaping tools, such as a tiny rolling pin, rolling trimmer or shape-cutter. Rolling and stretching bread or pizza dough is another way your child can practice coordinating the muscles in his hands and fingers.

Build and Fit

Fitting objects into specific spaces strengthens fine-motor skills by requiring your child to carefully arrange and position the object. For a younger child, this can mean fitting together stackable blocks to form a tower, fitting shapes through the correct slots on a bucket lid and completing peg puzzles. Older children build fine-motor skills by inserting small pegs or posts into narrow openings, fitting together grooved wooden blocks or logs or completing jigsaw puzzles.

Importance of Physical Motor Skills for School Readiness

Gross Motor Skills in School

Gross motor skills allow your child to climb the jungle gym with her friends, skip on the playground and play cooperative games like duck, duck, goose and tag. Poor gross motor skills result in clumsy stumbling and poor coordination. Kids who don't feel comfortable playing tag or using certain pieces of playground equipment may end up excluding themselves in other ways, which can affect their self-esteem and social development, according to the Centre for Developmental Psychiatry & Psychology at Monash University in Australia. Strengthening your child's gross motor skills can also help make her physical education experience a more positive one when she is confident in her movements.

Activities to Develop Gross Motor Skills

You don't need special equipment to foster strong gross motor skills in young children. Jumping rope and playing hopscotch both require jumping and coordination, while walking a straight line or a low-lying beam help build balance. Practice throwing bean bags into a bucket or play catch with a large rubber ball to improve hand-eye coordination. Smaller children can build arm and core strength by carrying buckets of sand and water at the beach or lake during the summer and climbing over piles of pillows in a padded obstacle course.

Fine Motor Skills in School

Strong fine motor skills allow your child to use small scissors, properly grip a pencil and write letters. Children with weak hand and finger muscles may struggle to write letters properly or experience fatigue or discomfort when doing so for an extended period. Using a paint brush to draw pictures or coloring inside the lines of a worksheet are other common tasks at the start of school that require strong fine motor skills to complete successfully.

Activities to Develop Fine Motor Skills

Strengthen your child's finger and hand muscles with a variety of pinching and manipulation activities. For example, opening and closing clothes pins, beading large wooden beads on shoe laces, using a small spray container and squeezing an eye-dropper all require controlling very small movements with precision and concentration. Molding clay, rolling dough and shaping sand castles also engage and strengthen the small hand, wrist and finger muscles so your child is physically prepared for school.

Children's Activities With Blocks

Dramatic Play

Blocks aren't just simple construction tools. The NAEYC suggests that adults add elements of dramatic play into a block area or block activity. This can include plush and plastic animals, mini cars, people figurines, dolls or any other small-sized toy. Your child can use the blocks to create zoo structures for his furry friends or build a house for a doll's family. Following the construction process, your little learner can imagine his own scenes and stories with the blocks and dramatic play toys.

Early Literacy

Turn your child's activities with blocks into early literacy lessons. Instead of just building with blocks and leaving the structures as is, your child can make her own signs to label her creations. Give your child paper, markers and crayons. Have her name each construction that she builds such as "Skyscraper" or "My Home." Help her to write the letters for each name on a piece of paper. If she is struggling to write on her own, lightly draw the letters first and have her trace over them with a crayon or marker. Place the labels near the block buildings to create a connection between the words and what they represent.


The early childhood education experts at NAEYC suggest helping young children learn about math through block play. Kids can tackle concepts such as geometry or pattern through simple block activities. Provide your child with different shapes of blocks such as triangles, squares, rectangles and spheres. Ask him to sort the blocks and organize them by shape. Another option is to try a pattern activity and have your child create his own alternating line of shaped or colored blocks. For example, he can line up a rectangle, triangle, rectangle, triangle, rectangle pattern or make one that is red, green; red, green.

Fine Motor Activities

The very basis for block building is to manipulate these small-sized items. Fine motor skills such as eye-hand coordination, dexterity, and finger and hand muscle control are all essential as your child grows. Without these skills, your little one will struggle to feed himself, dress himself or write the letters of his own name. The educational experts at NAEYC's For Families website recommend that parents give their young children small blocks to play with when helping build fine motor skills. Give your child wooden or plastic blocks she can easily pass from hand to hand, stack, turn over and generally manipulate.

How to Use Gross Motor Skills to Enhance Learning

Draw a hopscotch course with the numbers clearly written with sidewalk chalk. As your child hops from one area to the next, count the numbers out loud. You can also grab a jump rope and count or recite the alphabet with each jump. The repetition and body movements will help your child remember the correct number and alphabet sequences.

Use music, movement and dance for a full body shape lesson. Throw on some kid-friendly music, and encourage your child to shake his booty. After a while, turn it into a freeze dance activity. When you turn the music off, your child has to freeze where he is or make a shape with his body. Ask him what shape he’s in, and then turn the music back on for another round.

Plan and build a fort with your child using cardboard boxes. Ask your child for suggestions on how he thinks the fort should be built and let him put the boxes in position, assisting only when necessary. The fort can have walls stacked on both sides and your child can walk between the walls, or large boxes can be decorated and taped together so your child can crawl through them like a tunnel. This activity not only implements his critical thinking, spatial reasoning and hand-eye coordination, but it's also very entertaining for the young crowd.

Create an obstacle course for your child. First 5 California suggests using pillow stacks, cushions and blankets to make a course for a toddler or hula hoops, ball toss areas and marked off areas for a preschool-aged child. For a preschooler, you can also set up a simple obstacle course that he must navigate with a tricycle, using plastic cones and sidewalk chalk. These are whole body activities.

Play games with your child that involves a large rubber ball. Kick the ball around the yard. Sit on the ground facing each other and roll the ball back and forth. Set up a goal and encourage your child to try to kick the ball between two cones. These activities help work those large muscle groups while working on coordination and aiming.

Offer a bin of dress-up clothes and puppets for dramatic play. Your child must use his large muscles to dress himself in different outfits and getting up from the floor. Puppets require the larger muscles in his arms and core, as well as the small muscles in his fingers and hands.

Things You Will Need

  • Cardboard boxes
  • Dress-up clothes
  • Hula hoops
  • Jump rope
  • Markers
  • Pillows, cushions and blankets
  • Plastic cones
  • Puppets
  • Radio
  • Rubber ball
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Tape
  • Tricycle

Why Are Push Toys for Toddlers Good for Gross Motor Skills?

Learning to Stand

A major milestone that needs to be reached before your toddler starts walking is learning to stand. Push toys encourage your child to work on this important skill. Up until this point, she has experienced most of the world either in your arms or on the floor. With these toys, she can hold herself in a standing position and get comfortable with this new point of view. Since this is a new experience, she may start to cry after standing because she doesn’t know how to get down. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests teaching her how to bend her knees to lower herself to the floor without falling.


A push toy provides just enough assistance to help your child learn to balance her body without toppling over. Not only is balancing and standing a new experience for your child, her body proportions change dramatically over the first couple of years, with the head proportionally larger compared to the rest of her body. As her body catches up to her head, she has to get used to balancing and standing upright using her legs, arms and core.

Muscle Strength and Tone

The muscles in those little legs need to get strong, toned and developed in order for your toddler to be able to support her own weight without assistance. Your little one can hold on to the push toy while she works out those muscles. You can even weigh the push toys down a bit with a phone book for extra support, to prevent the toy from tipping over and to get those muscles working. Think of it as toddler exercise equipment.


As she makes her way across the room with her push toy, she will be learning how to alternate moving the right and left sides of her body to propel herself forward. At the beginning stages, her walking movements will be jerky and uneven. Practicing with her push toy will help her movements become smoother and more coordinated.

What to Look for in a Toddler Gym Class


Before you register for a class, ask for a tour of the facilities. A well-stocked toddler gym has plenty of stations and activities for your little one's short attention span. Above all, though, a gym should have a focus on safety and hygiene, with mats to cushion inevitable falls, clean facilities and hand sanitizer to keep the germs at bay. Your toddler will also enjoy a gym that's brightly colored, which is more stimulating.

Activity Focus

Observing a gym class helps you learn more about the main focus and the various activities included. The activities will vary from gym to gym and may include tumbling, balance work, free play and music time. Above all, a toddler gym should place an emphasis on fostering development in a safe and friendly way, including gross motor skills such as kicking, catching a ball and climbing stairs, according to the University of Pennsylvania Child Welfare Competency-Based Training and Certification Program. Structured activities can be mixed in with free play for a positive experience for your active cutie.


Those who work at a toddler gym need to be engaged, fun and friendly. Watch to see how the staff interacts with the children and how the children respond. You'll be able to tell if there's a mutual connection between the two just by watching. You can also ask about the staff's past experience -- look for workers who have had experience in child care, early childhood education, fitness and gymnastics and daycare. iSport also suggests watching how the other kids respond to the staff members. They should be happy and excited to be there, not upset or scared.


Some toddler gyms allow you to act as a spectator while your little one has all the fun, while others are more along the lines of Mom and Me programs, which require you to play along with your toddler. It's up to you as to how much interaction you want to have with your toddler while he's in his gym class. For some, it's bonding time, while others prefer a little quiet time to observe and catch up on emails.

How Are Perceptual Motor Skills Related to Language Skills?


As their name implies, perceptual motor skills are movement-related skills that your baby develops as part of his essential growth and development. The California Department of Education website lists examples of perceptual motor skills, such as hand-eye coordination, body-eye coordination, posture adjustment and visual-auditory skills. Your child develops these skills alongside his cognitive -- intellectual -- sensory-motor development, which is needed for thinking, problem-solving, communication, interaction and language. Language skills are your child's ability to form sounds and words, speak, understand and engage in speech.


Your child practices and develops his perceptual motor skills through active play, handling and feeling toys and other objects, and other physical activity. Language and other cognitive skills are needed for communication and academics. The Annual Review of Psychology notes that perceptual motor skills are primitive and narrow in how they are expressed. They are also more difficult to verbalize, while language skills are not as limited.


A study published in 2010 in the Journal of Child Language found that your child's motor development helps to enhance his language development. This occurs because specific motor behaviors give children the opportunity to practice their speech and language skills. These include rhythmic arm movements and recognition hand gestures. A child may point to an object or person before he uses a word or name to describe it or ask for it. The author of the study notes that most babies begin making rhythmic arm movements such as swinging, shaking and banging at around 28 weeks of age -- the same time that they begin to produce well-formed syllables and imitate babble or sounds. This shows that there is a nerve link between the development of motor and language skills.


The Annual Review of Psychology also notes that there are differences in the development of perceptual motor skills and languages skills in children. The review notes that one variation is that perceptual motor skills have a more specific development than intellectual skills such as language. This means that while most healthy children develop motor skills at a similar rate and pattern, language skills show more differences in development. Your child will continue to develop his language and intellectual skills into adulthood, but his motor skills will generally plateau in his teen years.