Toddlers and physical development
Gross motor skills are vital for your toddler's development. They help him when it comes to balancing, climbing, running and jumping around. If you have a toddler who seems extraordinarily clumsy, it might be a good idea help him build muscle tone and balancing skills, and help his hand-eye co-ordination. Being more co-ordinated makes him more aware of the differences between the left and right sides of his body and make him more spatially aware.
Children with poor gross motor skills often have low muscle tone, and because of this, it may impede any efforts your child makes to boost his strength and agility. Underdeveloped gross motor skills may also affect your child’s fine motor skills. He may lack hand-eye co-ordination, which could affect him later when it comes to reading and writing.
So just how do you go about boosting your child’s gross motor skills? It’s as simple as having fun, indoors and out.
Explore different environments
Take your just-walking toddler out to practice his new skill in different environments and terrains. Walking on different surfaces – grass, sand, wood chips, gravel – helps develop his balance and work out how to place his feet to remain steady on them. Hold his hand and encourage him to alternate small steps with big ones, and try to find shallow gradients that he can walk up and down. At the park, help him make his way up the chute of the toddler slide to strengthen his leg muscles and learn how to co-ordinate his arms as they pull and his legs as they push.
Get him climbing
If you have the space, a jungle gym is a great investment and will see your child through several years of play. Good gyms have a variety of ladders, climbing walls and steps, a sliding pole, rope nets and tunnels. Climbing is vital for building your toddler’s upper body strength, which helps when it comes to holding and controlling crayons and pencils.
Play active games
Play marching games and get him to try balancing on one leg (stay close by to catch him!), and teach him Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Your older toddler will love Simon Says, and a preschooler will love trying hopscotch. Play animal pretend: get him to roar and pounce like a tiger, trumpet and plod around like an elephant, with his dangling arm as his trunk, or hop like a rabbit. Throw a blanket on the floor and get him to wriggle under it, like a worm, from one side to the other. Put on a music CD and teach him how to do the twist, and have a little dance yourself...
Involve him in chores
Get him his own little broom and he will love helping you sweep inside the house or the driveway. He can help by dusting too, or by unloading clothes from the washing machine into the laundry basket – the combined reaching, pulling and twisting movements are great for boosting agility and strength. Toy gardening tools are great too – he can help you rake leaves (and then play in them!).
Get him some wheels
Ride-on toys, trikes and bikes are wonderful for building strength and improving balance. Set up an obstacle course for him to navigate. Always make sure he wears a safety helmet and protective knee and elbow pads to protect him if he takes a tumble.
It’s one of the simplest and best ways to get your child moving and balancing. Vary it by using balls of different sizes and playing football or handball. Invest in a junior basketball hoop, or fuzzy darts for his bedroom wall, or simply get him to throw balls of rolled-up newspaper into a rubbish bin placed a few feet away.
The good news is, your little one will love having all the attention from you whilst you play silly games and play football.