Gross motor coordination abilities are often noticed as we watch our children grow. They play chase with friends, scramble up rock piles, and attempt to ride that new bike without training wheels. Some are graceful (for the most part!), without missing a beat. Others, not so much. It just doesn’t seem to come as ‘naturally’ for some as it does to Johnny down the street. As occupational therapists, we observe, assess and inquire as we determine how to support a child through therapy. When it comes to gross motor skill development, we recognize that muscle tone, coordination, and strength and endurance play key roles. (There’s more to it, but let’s stick with these for now!)
Today we’re talking coordination!
Think about the following questions as we move forward:
Does your child seem to need extra time to “think” about how to move, rather than it seeming automatic?
Do other children your child’s age seem more advanced in sports?
Does your child avoid opportunities to join in physically active games or sports with others?
So what does it mean to be coordinated? Being coordinated means that different parts of your body are working together, smoothly and efficiently to get something done. Your right and left arm communicate well to catch a ball. Your arms and legs work together to run down the court and shoot that 3-pointer in basketball. When your body parts are in sync, sports, academics, and play just seem easier.
Often, we don’t really think about how our arms and legs, right side and left side, are working together to get things done. When they don’t seem to work together easily, tasks feel clumsy and slow.
Here is our broken record statement – “start with head acceleration!” We have noticed that this picks up muscle tone, making movement easier. If it helps to review our last blog on muscle tone, go for it!
Play around with the speed and direction of movement this time. Don’t be shy to accelerate and spin if your child is comfortable. If you see white knuckles or shocked faces, SLOW DOWN!
Side note, yet very important:
IF you see unorganized behavior in your child such as:
Fast and unfocused movements
Inability to follow instructions
Slow down your speed and add activities that require muscle strength!
Two to try:
- On scooter board,(We love these and get a lot of use out of the handle feature!) have your child scoot him/herself by pushing against the pavement.
- If your child is done with the scooter board, guide them towards our suggested activities below, or ANY climbing activity that requires strength.
Now that muscle tone is ready, let’s coordinate (gross motor coordination, that is!)
This little guy is figuring out where to position his arms and legs to climb on to the structure. Notice the strength as he pulls himself up! Support is added, as he needs it, to succeed. A little nugget of extra information for you: The more a child recruits his muscles during an activity, the more awareness he brings to his body for gross motor coordination to develop!
If you feel the need to physically guide your child as they learn a new task, PUT YOUR HANDS IN YOUR POCKETS! Ok, maybe that’s a bit extreme but we want to make a point! Before you jump to moving your child’s arms and legs, try giving them cues in other ways:
Visual support: Demonstrate the movement for them so they can watch how it is done, or point to a location as a target for their movement.
Verbal support: Try rhythmic or repeated words to support coordinated movements (i.e. when learning leg movements to pump a swing, try repeating “bend” and “straight”).
If your child finds this easy to do, here are two ways to up the ante.
Climbing ladders like this one are more of a challenge because she has a narrower platform to stand on, requiring more precise planning and gross motor coordination.
Climbing a structure that has multi-directional climbing options offer chances to move limbs forward and backward, as well as left and right. Without a specific path, coordination opportunities are endless!
Here’s a fun one for arms only:
Balloon pumps are fantastic tools to use with your kids at the park! They are portable and can pretty much create a party atmosphere in minutes! This is a bonus if you are looking to attract other kids for social play! We use this balloon pump, but your typical bike tire pump works too. This activity requires the child to stabilize with one hand while the other hand is moving. Having both hands work together creates a foundation for fine motor skills like writing and cutting.
Pumping a swing requires balance, timing, rhythm and total body coordination. This is the big time! Help your child learn how by teaching leg movements first. Once those are mastered, bring in the upper body motions. Click here for a nice little walk-through to teach your child how to pump a swing, compliments of Amanda Rock and About Parenting!
If you are not able to make it to the park today, try these alternative ideas to focus on coordination:
- Riding a scooter, tricycle or bike – We love Radio Flyer products, including this scooter for first timers!
- Hop scotch
- Jump rope
- Wheelbarrow walk or animal walks (bear walk, crab walk) – Lemon Lime Adventures has a great post highlighting 15 Animal Walks for sensory input!
- Pumping a swing
- Monkey bars
- Climbing on a climbing structure
Good gross motor coordination makes a child feel like the world is fun and welcoming. We see children who gain confidence both physically and mentally as their gross motor coordination improves. When a child feels up to the challenges that life presents, new learning opportunities become adventures rather than roadblocks.
Each piece of park or playground equipment provides its own set of challenges to a little body growing and developing. For more info about what gross motor skills are needed to tackle the park, check out MamaOT’s post about How to Support Gross Motor Skills Needed for Playground Success!
What will YOUR next adventure be at the park? We can’t wait to hear about it!
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