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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Let's Move! The Importance of Gross Motor Skills

Parents of young children may know what gross motor skills are, because of the awareness of milestones children achieve as they grow. Other times, people may not be exactly sure what we mean when we mention the importance of gross motor/ large motor skills. I like to tell people that gross motor gets you to where you need to go and fine motor helps you do what you need to do, once you get there. For instance, if your child wanted to do a craft, they would walk to the table and sit down (gross motor) and then they would fold or cut or colour the paper (fine motor).

Gross motor skills are movements that involve using the large muscles of the body. The development of gross motor skills begins as soon as a child is born. As children mature, their gross motor abilities continue to develop and improve. Boys usually develop gross motor skills sooner than girls, with the exception of skills that involve balance and precise movements, like skipping and hopping.

Gross motor skills are important because of:  

Health:  Any sort of exercise promotes obvious benefits of exercise to the body and mind.

Confidence & Self Esteem: Gross motor skills allow children to feel comfortable and confident during activities like group sports and games. 

Ability to Assess Risk: Another important life skill, not only with physical well being but with taking risks in life with decision making. 

Energy Release: This helps in all domains of physical, social, and emotional well being. Energy release allows our children to focus on tasks, impacting their learning in all areas. 

Brain Development: The early years lay the foundation of brain pathways for lifelong motor skills and aid in learning, especially learning skills that require advanced thinking and mental dexterity.

We are very fortunate at BELA to work with the Occupational Therapists and Assistants at Sensational Kids. They not only provide assessments for our students but they also provide our staff with resources, support and professional development, and step in to work with our students when necessary.  You too, can benefit from their knowledge by taking part in BELA parent workshops and by following them on Facebook for relevant resources!

Nowadays a lot of our gross motor development has  taken a back seat, because of things like iPads, game consoles, tv, etc. Some children would much rather sit in front of some sort of electronic device, than get up and move or  go outside. In our role as teachers, mentors, and parents, it is important to discourage this and encourage at least one hour of outside play everyday. It doesn't have to be anything fancy! Outside play can be as simple as a walk or bike ride, a game of catch in the back yard, or a trip to the playground.

Inside play can also develop gross motor skills as well, you just have to use your imagination. For the Gross Motor presentation that Mrs. Blake and I facilitated, we provided parents with easy ideas and strategies to use at home that are fun for the whole family. Here are some examples that you can implement today:

Yoga is a great exercise to do at home. Its fun, relaxing, can involve the whole family, and is a great opportunity to work on self regulation.

Rolling a ball back and forth to each other is another good exercise that you can easily make into a fun game. It also encourages coordination and turn taking. This activity can be expanded to further develop these skills, to tossing and catching a ball, depending on the developmental level of your child.

Hide and Seek is a great game for all members of the family. Trying to find a tricky place to hide will definitely promote some good gross motor movement and it's fun!

“Simon Says” is another fun game that everyone loves. Not only does it promote gross motor movement, it’s a great listening and direction following game. You can make the movement requests as tough or as easy as you would like.

Core strengthening is essential for the progression of other developmental skills. The core is the centre of control for everything else the body does. It’s difficult to balance, perform coordinated movements on both sides of the body, sit up straight in a chair, hold a pencil, control scissors, or jump if you don’t have a strong core. We know that decreased core strength commonly contributes to other issues like W-sitting and delayed motor skill development. And we also find that more and more children are having difficulty with maintaining functional posture at home and in the classroom and with overall body strength.

Everyone  has core strength and muscles that they don’t even know are there. The trick is to teach everyone, especially children, to ENGAGE their core muscles.
Once they learn how to do that, many things improve like their posture and balance.

Here are some core strengthening exercises you can try at home:

Bridging:  lifting the hips as high as possible. You can alternate this a little by trying to pass a ball underneath then have it get ‘stuck’ so as the child lowers the bridge, they have to lift back up again.

Superman position: have the child lay on their stomach and using their core, life arms and legs up as if they were flying. This is pretty difficult for some so try getting them to hold it for a short time, release, and then do it again.

Plank position: make this a time contest. Set a goal and work towards it. Have the child raise up on hands and toes and try to be straight like a board; ensure back and legs are straight like a board also.

Knock the wall over: when children have to stand still,  wait their turn, or need a break, give this exercise a try. Have the child place both hands on the wall and try to achieve a good lunge and see if they can knock it over.

Preschool children reap psychological benefits as they expand and refine their gross motor skills. Children become more self-confident when they challenge old boundaries related to their gross motor abilities and meet with success. Gaining gross motor proficiencies permits preschool children to take part in a variety of active recreational activities, which can promote psychological well-being. Core strength is necessary to develop all sorts of skills from posture, balance, endurance, coordination, and stability. All of these together create strong gross motor skills and healthy children.

These exercises were fun to introduce to the parents who joined us for the workshop at BELA and we are happy to share them with you through the blog! Your children will love trying out these activities with you. Fun , exercise, increased gross motor skills and confidence! Sounds like a win to me!

* For more great info / resources regarding gross motor skills check out the following websites:

~Lacey Flynn 

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