Fun Outdoor Activities That Strengthen Kids’ Motor Skills

Almost all kids love to play outdoors. And the fun sports, play equipment and activities that may be explored outdoors also provide wonderful opportunities for children to strengthen motor skills. As the temperatures rise to more comfortable levels, encourage kids to head outdoors for playtime instead of staring at the screens and playing with tech devices indoors.

According to the American Heart Association, all children need at least 60 minutes of “moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity every day.” Many activities on local playgrounds help kids reach this vital heart-healthy goal, and these activities also do double-duty by improving gross or fine motor skills. So what’s the difference between fine and gross motor skills? The Babycenter.com editorial team offers this easy primer to take the mystique out of motor skills:fine motor skills are small movements — such as picking up small objects and holding a spoon — that use the small muscles of the fingers, toes, wrists, lips, and tongue. Gross motor skills are the bigger movements — such as rolling over and sitting — that use the large muscles in the arms, legs, torso, and feet.”

According to Parents.com, most kids master many fine motor skills by age five. Gross motor skills often are fairly developed by age six, but every child is different. Some kids naturally need more help in fine and/or gross motor skills. To help your little one master their muscles, engage them in these fun activities:

Sports

Parents don’t need a big field to get kids to play sports. Yes, the extra space helps. However, kids also can play a few games in their own backyard. Soccer is probably the easiest to play in the backyard. Just set up a few goals and have kids play mini games. Playing soccer helps kids learn to dribble the ball with their feet and improves gross motor skills. Running also gets the heart pumping! Families that have a basketball hoop in the driveway (or back patio) should encourage kids to practice dribbling and shooting baskets. Join in the fun and challenge kids one-on-one…or kids versus parent(s).

Playground Play

Your local park offers some of the best activities to strengthen motor skills. Local playgrounds are home to the equipment kids love, but those swings, slides and monkey bars also hide benefits within their fun! When kids crawl through tunnels connecting areas of the playground, the movement helps strengthen core muscles.

A simple swing is incredibly beneficial for babies and toddlers. Jill Mays, with The Motor Story, writes about the many benefits of swinging; hand muscles are strengthened by holding the ropes, and swings teach babies and toddlers how to focus during motion.

Even climbing the stairs to get to the slide helps kids improve gross motor, although most kids won’t master climbing until around two years of age.

Jumping Rope or Hula Hooping

Teach kids how to jump rope and help them practice balance and coordination; this is a skill that also helps the heart…jumping rope is great cardio! Kids also can improve muscle coordination and balance by hula hooping. Keeping the hoop in motion takes practice and skill!

Fine Motor Skills and Fun for Rainy Days

Even if you can’t make it outside, kids can work on fine motor skills indoors. Need a few fun suggestions? Try cotton ball hockey. Set up goals on either end of a long table or on hard floors. Have kids use straws to try to blow cotton balls into the goals. Whoever gets all their cotton balls into the goal first wins! Holding the straws helps fingers practice the pincher grasp, and blowing helps strengthen “oral motor” abilities.

For kids who need a little sweet reward, Tools to Grow OT recommends having kids practice tiny motor movements by picking up small candies or pieces of trail mix with tweezers and placing them in a cup or jar. You can also use chocolate chips! This is a great game to use if kids receive candy for a holiday or special occasion and parents are left with open bags of candy that need to be contained…enlist kids  to help cleanup and work fine motor skills at the same time!

Kids of all ages can boost fine and gross motor skills through everyday fun activities. Gross motor skills help kids run, jump and play at recess and physical education classes, and those tiny hands must master fine motor skills to cut, trace and grasp a pencil. Work with little ones to practice the skills they need to flourish in the classroom, on the playground…and in life!

About the Author

Tara Heath is a 37 year old health professional and works as a freelancer writer in the evenings. Her writing focuses mainly on health, such as skincare and how to live a healthy lifestyle overall. She lives in Burbank, Ca. with her husband and two beautiful daughters ages eight and twelve.

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