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Running, hopping, kicking, throwing, skipping. Sounds like child’s play, right?
Yes?.and no. Although these kids games are tons of fun, they actually play an important role in your child’s gross motor skills development—movements that use the body’s large muscle groups such as hamstrings, quadriceps, and the pectorals.
“Developing strong gross motor skills is incredibly important to a child’s overall growth and development,” says Beth K. Ryan, M.Ed., Senior Child Development Specialist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “On a basic level, kids who have strong gross motor skills tend to be more active and have less weight and health issues as they get older. On a more complex level, many games that encourage gross motor skill development [such as kickball, Simon Says, and Duck Duck Goose] also encourage socialization skills and can build a child’s self esteem—both important qualities as a child grows through life.”
But what if your child isn’t running circles around his friends at the playground? Don’t panic. While there are some children that do need physical therapy to help get their muscles moving, many just need a little more time (check with your pediatrician if you have concerns). For example, Ian Graham of Mountain Lakes, N.J., refused to walk until he was almost 18 months old. Now he's six, and his mother, Patie, reports that he is one of the more athletic kids on the block. “I tried not to worry when Ian was younger, and instead I would be positive about the small accomplishments he would make,” says Graham. “Today he has great muscle tone and is into all kinds of sports. You’d never know he took so long to walk.”
Where does your child stand on the gross motor skills track? To help you assess, use these gross motor guidelines for children ages two to five.
By age 3: Your child can jump with both feet, kick a ball, catch a beach ball, jump forward a short distance, pedal a tricycle, and walk downstairs alternating feet while holding the banister.
Stay on target: Most children this age can run and skip. At the playground your child should be able to support his weight while hanging from a bar and climb up the ladder to the small slide and coast down.
By age 4: Your preschooler should be able to run, hop on one foot, and quickly change direction while in motion. He can catch a ball and throw it overhead, balance on one foot for five seconds, do a forward roll, pump on a swing, and balance on a four-inch-wide beam.
Stay on target: Soon, your child should be able to jump a good distance off the ground, play on the monkey bars with someone spotting him at the waist, and walk across a low balance beam.
By age 5: By now your child should be able to stand on one foot for 10 seconds or longer, skip, do a standing broad jump over a piece of paper, strike a moving object, catch and throw.
Stay on target: Your child should step and throw or kick a ball, and alternate feet when hopping. At the playground it’s likely that he can play on the monkey bars without your help, walk on a low balance beam, and pump himself on the swing.
Resources for Revving Up Motor Skills
For more information on children’s development programs contact the resources listed below.
The Little Gym International, based in Scottsdale, Az., has 136 locations in the U.S. and offers programs that focus on building motor skill development through games involving music and gymnastics. 888-228-2878; www.thelittlegym.com
My Gym Children’s Fitness Center, based in California, has over 100 locations nationwide and programs that incorporate music, dance and gymnastics to help build motor skills. www.my-gym.com
Formative Fun is a site that offers products and games for babies and toddlers to strengthen motor skills and coordination. www.formativefun.com
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