From the minute a child is born, they are learning about and exploring their environment. This learning expands as they grow and develop. They will start to grab, roll, crawl, stand, walk, dance and climb. Physical development progresses in both fine motor (small muscle movements usually involving the hands and fingers) and gross motor skills (large muscle movements). By the time a child reaches the toddler stage (1-3 years old), they should be able to run, jump, walk backward, climb stairs, kick a ball as well as catch and throw a ball, scribble and trace, use scissors and stand on one foot, among other movements. Moving into the Preschooler stage (3-5 years old), a child should be able to hold a crayon or pencil correctly, form shapes out of clay, hop on one foot, jump over objects, somersault, gallop, walk on a balance beam, skip, swing and color in between the lines, among other things.
By the time a child hits their Preschool years, they will experience an array of newly developed motor skills as their nervous systems matures, making their fine and gross motor skills more coordinated and precise. While much of these skills develop naturally, you can help to refine these skills in your daily activities with the child. Any of these skills can be done outside on a nice day. It is extremely important for a young child to get outside for fresh air daily, as this is vital to their health. Tailor each activity to match the season and the weather; get out there and get moving!
Suggested Activities for Gross Motor Development:
- Play a game of Simon Says, Tag, Duck Duck Goose or Follow the Leader.
- Grab different sized balls and practice catching, throwing, kicking, rolling and bouncing.
- Build ramps with boxes or blocks and have the children race cars.
- Have a dance party!
- Hopscotch! Or, to take an educational approach to physical activity, draw letters or numbers on the ground in chalk and have the children run or jump to the ones you call out.
- Take out the tricycles or other ride along toys or push toys and go for a ride around the block. Make sure to wear helmets!
- Paint the town! Bring out some washable paint and paper; there’s less clean up outside. Have the children paint the sidewalk, anything concrete or wooden with the water, as it will dry right up!
- On a warm, rainy day (with parents permission) go puddle jumping!
- Build with large blocks or legos. Place the stock pile a bit further from where the children are building so they will have to walk back and forth.
- Go on a nature scavenger hunt or hike, collecting items and crossing them off on your list as you go. Bring some home made binoculars (made out of toilet paper rolls) and sing silly songs while you walk!
Suggested Activities for Fine Motor Development:
- Bring big sheets of construction or butcher paper outside. The children can use crayons, paintbrushes, markers, sponges or spray bottles of paint and have them paint using their bodies!
- Chalk drawings on the sidewalk or driveway. Have them lay down and trace each other’s bodies.
- Have an egg hunt. Hide stones or other little items found around the yard or house inside of the eggs so the children can open them to see what’s inside!
- Bring art projects outside on a blanket. Make your own puzzles with the kids for greater fine motor skill definition or a nature collage.
- Make “jewelry” by threading Cheerios or Fruit Loops onto string or pipe cleaners.
- Have the children practice tying, zippering, buckling and buttoning up their clothes, jackets and shoes before going outside. This fosters independence as well as important fine motor life skills.
- Plant a garden. If you can’t plant in the land, you can make little planters out of old milk jugs or coffee cans. Turn it into a fun science experiment!
- Make homemade playdough. Bring the ingredients outside to make your own playdough; it leaves less of a mess to clean up. Make this simple recipe mixing 1 cup cold water, 1 cup salt, 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, food coloring, 3 cups flour and 2 tablespoons cornstarch. You can even add some natural elements to it like sand and grass, for a sensory place experience!
- Sand/Water table: bury toys in the sand and dig for them, using shovels and pails or even spoons and cups(plastic preferred!) or see what items float or sink as you splash around in a tub of water!
- Sorting: take cans or cups and have children sort items found outside (rocks, sticks, leaves) into different containers. Empty coffee cans with a hole in the plastic lid work perfectly for this!
The outdoor activities you can do with a child are endless! With a little imagination, you can stretch your outdoor time for awhile, keeping the activities fresh and new. Utilize the items you have at your disposal. If you have a jungle gym in the yard or a park nearby, use it! Even a quick walk if the weather is too hot or too cold(with the children dressed appropriately, of course) will be enough fresh air for the kiddies and to promote physical well-being. So put down those ipads or bring that activity you had planned for the afternoon outside and get moving!
Amanda Dunyak attended Kean University for English Education with a minor in music, her other passion. Currently, she is a nanny working and residing on the New Jersey Shore. She has been a babysitter, nanny, and household manager for well over 20 different families throughout her career. She was also an instructional aide with special needs children, a teacher’s assistant, and a preschool teacher over the past 19 years, so childcare is in her blood. She is the owner and operator of Nanny Extraordinaire Child Care Services, LLC where she helps match up nannies and parents based on similar beliefs and personalities, helps with the interview and hiring process and sets nannies up for training to help them deal with the many situations they will face. She also has a blog for nannies called Diary of a Super Nanny and is an writer and Street Team Leader for Nanny Magazine. View Amanda’s posts here.