Friday, August 15, 2008

Help your Preschooler Learn Large Motor Skills

Have you ever watched a group of children playing and noticed that some of them were uncoordinated and clumsy? These children need to develop their gross motor skills. Gross motor skills include: balance (the ability to maintain equilibrium), body awareness (for improved posture and control), laterality (awareness and coordination of the left and right sides of the body), spatial awareness (awareness of the body position in space and in relation to other objects in space), and major muscle coordination. These skills are needed for athletic activities and more importantly, physical coordination in their daily activities.

Physical activity should be a positive and fun experience for kids. Developing positive attitudes about movement at an early age is essential to making a commitment to an active lifestyle. Mastering some fundamental large motor skills means children are able to participate in a wider range of activities.

Because no two children are alike, some activities need to be modified to fit your individual child. Younger children have shorter attention spans and need more variety to maintain interest. Kids also need to be given the time to explore solutions to movement problems in free play situations and in independent creative settings. Activities should be fun, non competitive and success oriented. Make sure you keep the sctivity below their frustration level, or the point where the child has difficulty succeeding. Kids should be given adequate instruction and plenty of time to practice. Skills should be taught in a sequential manner. Kids need to feel safe while learning so there should be boundaries, rules and routines that they can follow. And most importantly, remember to give them tons of praise.

The three main types of skills that should be covered are stability skills (bending, balancing, stretching, swinging, twisting, dodging), locomotor skills (walking, running, jumping, hopping, leaping, skipping, galloping, climbing, rolling, creeping, crawling), and manipulative skills (throwing, catching, rolling, bouncing, kicking, striking, trapping). The suggested activities are endless. Here are some aimed for 3-5 year olds.

1. Play with a large ball. Kick the ball with one foot, and then the other. Throw and catch the ball, too. If your child has trouble catching a ball, you can slow down the process by using a chiffon scarf. The scarf moves slowly and has lots of surface area to grab.
2. Have a set of props that your child can use for exploration. Examples: scarves, hoops, sticks, flags, bean bags.
3. Play "Simon says," so your child will have to copy your movements, and improve his
listening skills. In "Mirror images" you face each other and mimic the leader's actions. Remember to go slow enough for your child to keep up. These activities are good for developing laterality and spatial awareness.
4. Play the balance game. Ask your child to count how long they can balance on one foot. Use a variety of balances holding your foot in several positions.
5. Ask your child to gallop like a horse or slide like a baseball player.
6. Log rolls or forward rolls are good for body rotation skills.
7. Tag is great for practicing sprinting, stopping, and changing direction quickly.
8. Kids can develop their skills in climbing and hanging by using playground equipment. This type of environment fosters development in spatial awareness, body tension and grip strength.
9. Learn action songs. Tell your child to act out animal moves: slither like a snake, waddle like a duck, or jump like a kangaroo. You can combine phonics and action with the "Animal Action Phonics Rhymes" found posted on this blog.
10. Set up obstacle courses with tunnels to crawl through, hoops to jump in, and inclines to
roll down.

Now is the time to give your child the right environment and opportunities to develop their large motor skills. Each time your child solves a movement problem it is recorded in his muscle memory. Gross motor memory is vital at this stage as it allows a child to recall the muscular steps used in the past for successful performance. Numerous muscle groups must be rapidly engaged, so that the right muscles are accomplishing the necessary steps at the right time. For some kids these processes will be nearly instinctive and for others continual training will be required. Have fun and enjoy this special time with your preschooler.

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