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Gross Motor Skills for Preschoolers

Active play helps your child develop large motor skills, such as running.

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Gross motor skills for preschoolers - at the playground

Climbing at the playground builds gross motor skills for preschoolers.

Erica Greis

Even at the tender age of 3, 4, or 5, your child needs lots of opportunities for physical activity. Active play is important both for good health and for building gross motor skills. For preschoolers, developing large motor skills—learning to use the large muscles in their legs, arms, and trunk to run, jump, throw, catch, and kick—is fun!

Kids this age are also working on fine motor skills; although those develop a bit later, they are crucial for important tasks like learning to write. You'll want to provide your preschooler with plenty of time to work all her muscles, big and small. They all have to work together to help her succeed! Try these playful physical activities:

Gross Motor Skills Activities for Preschoolers

  • Dancing, either freestyle or through songs with movements, such as "I'm a Little Teapot," "The Wheels on the Bus," or "Popcorn": I'm a piece of popcorn, put me in a pan/Shake me, shake me, as fast as you can (child shimmies, shakes, and jumps)/And I ... will ... (child crouches down low) ... POP!" (child jumps as high as he can). (Dance and movement classes, like pre-ballet, can be fun but aren't necessary for motor-skills development.)

  • Walking, around the house, neighborhood, or park. For variety, add in marching, jogging, skipping, hopping, or even musical instruments to form a parade. As you walk, tell stories, count, or play games.

  • Swimming and other water play.

  • Balancing: Have your child walk on a piece of string or tape, a low beam or plank at the playground, or a homemade balance beam.

  • Playing pretend: Kids boost motor skills when they use their bodies to become waddling ducks, stiff-legged robots, galloping horses, soaring planes—whatever their imagination comes up with!

  • Riding tricycles, scooters, and other ride-on toys; pulling or pushing wagons, large trucks, doll strollers, or shopping carts.

  • Building and navigating obstacle courses–indoors with furniture, pillows, boxes, blankets; outdoors with rocks, logs, or playground equipment.

  • Throwing, catching, and rolling large, lightweight, soft balls.

  • Playing tag or other classic backyard games, such as Follow the Leader, Red Light/Green Light, Tails, or Simon Says (avoid or modify games that force kids to sit still or to be eliminated from play, such as Duck Duck Goose or musical chairs).

  • Swinging, sliding, and climbing at a playground or indoor play space.

  • Large-scale arts and crafts activities.

Small Motor Skills Activities for Preschoolers

  • Sand play
  • Puppet shows
  • Sidewalk chalk or any art project
  • Finger plays (songs such as "The Itsy Bitsy Spider")
  • Cooking: includes pouring, shaking, sprinkling, kneading, tearing, cutting with butter knife
  • Lacing cards or stringing beads
  • Coloring and tracing with crayons, pencils, or markers
  • Cutting with safety scissors
  • Manipulative toys such as blocks, puzzles, or dolls with clothes to take on and off

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