The Importance of Gross Motor Development in Early Childhood
By Elsabé Louw
Gross motor (physical) skills are an essential component of development for all children. Gross motor skills are those that require movement of the whole body and involve the large (core stabilising) muscles to perform everyday functions. Children are however not born with perfect gross motor skills.
From the first days of life, children begin using their bodies to learn about the world around them and so start developing physical skills. Through motor development, by learning and practice, children gain control over their muscles. As they continue to mature, their reliance on gross motor remains strong.
Children are expected to begin preschool with basic control over the large muscles in their bodies (arms, legs and torso). Without a fair amount of gross motor skills, children will struggle with many day-to-day tasks, such as eating, packing away their toys, and getting on and off the toilet.
Working on gross motor skills helps children gain strength and confidence in their bodies. But, developing your child’s gross motor skills can do so much more than that – it can influence the child’s ability to write well, to read well and even to concentrate in a classroom.
For example, a child’s ability to maintain appropriate table top posture (upper body support) will affect their ability to participate in fine motor skills (writing, drawing and cutting) and sitting upright to attend to class instruction will impact their academic learning. Gross motor skills influence a child’s endurance to cope with a full day of school (sitting upright at a desk, moving between classrooms, carrying a heavy school bag). Gross motor skills also include small movements of the large muscle groups, because it impacts the ability to navigate your environment (walking around classroom items such as desks, up a sloped playground hill, or getting on and off a moving escalator).
Below are just a few notable signs that the gross motor skills of a child in preschool or kindergarten are not age appropriate:
• The child suddenly falls out of his/her chair during a lesson. The child shifted his/her weight, but inadvertently moved his muscles too much, causing him/her to fall out of his/her chair.
• The child keeps falling throughout the day, for no reason. Some children cannot sit still and have to move constantly to keep their bodies in an upright position.
• The child cannot hold his/her head upright without help, or appears to be clumsy.
Why is gross motor development so important?
• Health – obvious benefits of exercise to the body and mind
• Confidence & Self Esteem – important in childhood, yes, but arguably a more important life skill
• Ability to Assess Risk – another important life skill, not only with physical wellbeing but with taking risks in life through decision making
• Brain Development – the early years lay the foundation of brain pathways for lifelong motor skills and aids in learning, especially learning skills that require advanced thinking
Gross motor movements are categorised as follows:
• Locomotor activity – movement from one spot to another. Examples: walking, running, climbing, leaping, jumping, hopping, galloping, sliding, and skipping.
• Non-locomotor activity – movement in a stationary place. Examples: pushing, pulling, bending, stretching, twisting, turning, swinging, swaying, rising, and falling.
• Manipulative skills – moving objects in a variety of ways. Examples: throwing, kicking, striking, and catching.
A letter to a parent:
Please, let you kids be active with and in nature. Go for walks, or take them cycling and swimming. Minimise activities and toys that do not develop your child’s gross motor skills. Give them balls, boxes, skipping ropes, wheelbarrows and wooden blocks, spades and buckets, swings, objects to climb, push or pull.
Join your kids in activities. Play with your kids. After all, playing is about the fun you have with your kids while building memories your kids will never forget.
“When you asked me what I did in school today and I say, ‘I just played.’
Please don’t misunderstand me. For you see, I am learning as I play.
I am learning to enjoy and be successful in my work.
Today I am a child and my work is play.”
Anita Wadley, 1974.
Guides for parents:
The Little Book of Gross Motor Skills: Little Books with Big Ideas
Adaptive Fitness & Gross Motor Development
Infant Motor Development
Jan P. Piek
Motor Learning and Development
Pamela Haibach, Greg Reid, Douglas Collier