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Using outside play activities to develop motor skills.

Spring is finally here and children are excited about playing outside. Outside play times are perfect opportunities to encourage motor skill development while spending quality time with your child.

As children grow, they should be exposed to a variety of experiences that encourage their motor skills to develop. Simple things like choosing to walks on a gravel paths, soft sand or spongy playground mulch can challenge a child’s coordination and balance.  Playing on a variety of “unstable ground surfaces” will increase your child’s proprioceptive drive into the muscles which causes them to work harder than doing the same movements on more stable surfaces such as a road, wooden floors or concrete. Challenging your child with exposure to these unstable surfaces can encourage growth of motor skill coordination and postural control.

Q: What if my child doesn’t like to walk on unstable ground surfaces?

A: New experiences can be challenging for children. The best way to deal with a child that is struggling  with walking on this different surfaces is by gradual exposure. Make a “sensory tub” (a large box or container filled with beans, sand, mulch, etc) and have the child try to experience the feeling of the texture on his hands. If the child is resistant to touch see if they’ll use a tool like a play shovel to scoop in it. Hide toys in the tub and see if they can use their shovel to “find   the buried treasure”.  Once the child can accept the feeling of the substance on their hands, see if they can tolerate sitting in the tub, walking in the tub, kicking in the tub, etc.

Taking a child to the park is another WONDERFUL way to encourage building motor skills. Climbing ladders for slides, running and chasing friends, and swinging are all great activities that ultimately build strength and endurance.

Q: What if my child struggles with tasks such as climbing the ladder or running like other kids his/her age?

A: If you child is struggling to keep up, try working on building endurance by exposure to outside play more frequently. If they are struggling to climb, try working on alternating feet to walk up and down stairs. Build upper arm strength by pulling/pushing a wagon or other toy. Work on sitting on an exercise ball or big swing (with support as needed) to build core strength for stabilizing themselves in motion.

Simple outdoor sports activities are great for building muscle coordination and endurance. Simple play time fun such as throwing a ball under handed or over head, catching a ball, kicking a ball, or riding a tricycle or bike can build motor skills.

Q: What if my child struggles with throwing/kicking/catching a ball?

A: First look at the size of the ball you are using for play. Start with a larger ball for kicking/catching and throwing (with 2 hands) to help your child’s motor skills develop. Challenge your child to continue this growth by using smaller balls as your child develops more coordination.

Q: What if my child falls a lot or seems more clumsy than other kids?

A: One cause for a child appearing clumsy or falling a lot may be underdeveloped core strength and motor skills. Participate in activities that will increase core strength such as walking on unstable ground (sand, mulch, gravel), swing on a swingset to build core strength (remember, try to push as little as possible, let your child work their core and legs to get the swing moving), sit on an exercise ball and balance or bounce to work on core stabilization (supervision and support as needed).

Q: At what age should my child be doing these activities?

A: By age 2, toddlers should be able to walk and run well on all surfaces. They should be able to kick a ball, catch a large ball, and jump with both feet. By age 3, toddlers usually can balance briefly on one foot, climb one foot over another on stairs/playground equipment, throw a ball overhand, and pedal a tricycle.

What fun games can I try with my child to encourage their motor skills to develop?

  • Crab walk
  • Jumping in a bounce house or trampoline
  • Hopping like a frog
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Playing with balls

Don’t forget to stay hydrated while playing! Make sure that your child has access to water as needed during play times to make sure they don’t get dehydrated.

If you have any concerns with your child’s motor skill development, feel free to contact our office at 704-821-0568 to speak with a licensed therapist.

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