The Importance of Physical Play: Simple Ways to Develop Motor Skills at Home

Some of you may have heard me speak at your child’s Kindy about the importance of physical play and the role it plays in making sure that children have the necessary skills to start school.  Below are some simple ways to develop your child’s gross and fine motor skills at home:

smiling excited kids having fun together on playground

Gross Motor Skills:

If you think back to your own childhood I’m sure you can recall hours spent playing outside on the playground at the local park, on bikes and playing sport with neighbourhood kids.  These tasks allow development of the centres of your brain that are responsible for interpreting movement and body position (vestibular and proprioceptive systems).  They also assist to build sound core strength which is vital for success at school.  Core strength allows children to maintain sitting posture at the desk and for mat-time.  It also gives them a supportive base to carry out gross motor tasks with control.  Without these underlying skills children appear clumsy, fatigue quickly, can’t sit still and produce lower quality written work.

Encouraging Gross Motor Skill Development: 

  • Backyard obstacle courses- jumping, hopping, balancing, climbing, crawling, throwing, catching etc.
  • Playground- slides, swings, monkey bars, flying foxes, fireman’s poles, balance beams, climbing walls
  • Equipment- trampolines, junior stilts, scooters, bikes
  • Weight bearing walks- wheelbarrow walks, commando walks, animal walks (crab, bear, frog, caterpillar)
  • Change the position you complete tasks in- reading whilst lying on stomach, propped up on elbows or writing up against a vertical surface.

Fine Motor Skills:

Again, if you think back to your childhood you may recall things like digging in the sand pit, using hacksaws (My parents used to let my brothers and I saw into an old tree stump,, with adequate supervision of course!) and hammers in the backyard, building Lego, completing jigsaws, creating craft (cutting, gluing, threading and drawing).  These activities ensure that kids develop essential foundation skills such as hand strength, in hand manipulation, hand dominance and bilateral integration.  These allow us to develop efficiency and control for tasks such as writing, cutting with scissors, doing up buttons and tying shoe laces.

Encouraging Fine Motor Skill Development:

  • Make drawing and writing fun by using novelty pens- scented pens, stampers, window pens, wiggle writers, crayons, changer pens, invisible markers
  • Pencil control activities- mazes, dot to dots, tracing, step by step drawings, stencils, colour by numbers
  • Finger and hand strength- pegs, playdough, tennis ball monsters, pop beads, nuts and bolts, finger soccer, spray bottles, water pistols
  • Tool use- hammers, screwdrivers, tongs, tweezers
  • Paper craft- origami, paper plans, paper toys (there are heaps of templates freely available online)
  • Construction toys- Lego, Mobilo, block designs, marble towers

Kate Kleinau- Occupational Therapistkate headshot

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