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by Janice Nieliwocki, Ronald V McGuckin & Associates

Now that winter has finally arrived, don’t take a vacation from activities designed to promote the development of gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are the abilities needed to control the large muscles of the body. These muscles control movements such as walking, running, crawling, throwing and similar activities. The importance of a good preschool movement curriculum can’t be over-emphasized. Children love to move and movement helps to develop the large muscles of the body necessary for the above mentioned activities and promotes self-esteem and self- confidence. In addition, physical activities, introduced at an early age, encourage physical fitness and set the stage towards healthy and active lives, especially important today as we face a nationwide increase in childhood obesity. You are probably spending more time indoors due to winter weather and it can be a challenge to incorporate physical activities and movement into your everyday regimen. Why not face the challenge, be creative and have some fun, keeping in mind that your ultimate goal is to promote and improve gross motor skills?

When planning your movement curriculum, look at the developmental level of each child. Take care to ensure that your lesson plans and activities are developmentally appropriate yet offer a certain degree of challenge. Arrange your activities in a hierarchical sequence so that earlier skills build towards more complex physical skills. If incorporating equipment into your movement program, make sure that the equipment is developmentally appropriate and inspect it periodically to ensure it is safe and in good condition. Include activities that promote balance, spatial orientation, coordination and body awareness. Incorporate movements that are designed to work the major muscles of both the upper and lower body.

Parachute play is a perfect indoor activity for improving upper body strength and coordination. Spread the parachute out and position children equidistant around the perimeter, instructing them to hold a portion of the parachute. Allow children to manipulate the parachute up and down in a wavelike motion. Incorporate a lightweight ball into the activity and have children either toss and catch the ball with the parachute or roll it around the parachute in a circular pattern. These activities and similar ones will work the muscles of the wrist, arm, shoulder and trunk. You can also include activities which involve crawling under the parachute, etc. to further involve other large muscle groups. You can also purchase music CD’s which include music and activities designed for parachute play.

Beanbag and/or lightweight ball toss can easily be adapted for indoor play. Work to improve throwing and catching skills. In keeping with a winter theme, you can also simulate “snowball” activities, having children roll white tissue paper into pretend “snowballs”. Children love having a “pretend” indoor snowball fight or tossing their pretend snowballs into a basket or other container. You can also involve kicking activities, as long as space allows and there are no safety risks. An indoor obstacle course is easy to set up and can provide a great deal of fun as well as focus on improving gross motor skills. There are many pieces of equipment, such as a low balance beam, fabric tunnel, or sets of stairs, specifically designed for just this purpose which can be purchased fairly inexpensively. However, lack of equipment shouldn’t prohibit you from this activity as you can use items from your classroom to establish an indoor obstacle course. You can easily put together a make-shift tunnel by draping a sheet over chairs or tables. Large wooden blocks can serve as a “balance beam” on the floor or as an obstacle for children to step over. Small classroom chairs can be set up in a particular configuration, so that children can “weave” through or around them. Large hoops, laid flat on the floor, are perfect for children to step (or jump) in and out of. Make an effort to incorporate various movements and challenges into your obstacle course activity, including, but not limited to, crawling, jumping, skipping, stretching, climbing, and left and right coordination.

Consider your particular classroom situation and environment and the developmental level of the children you’re working with. Proceed accordingly, keeping safety in mind. Dancing to music can be a favorite activity for young children and can serve to develop gross motor skills. It is the perfect activity to incorporate stretching and reaching movements. Include ribbon wands with your dance motions and improve coordination and rhythm, as well. Don’t overlook the importance of static activities, which work to improve stability and balance. Have children stand on one leg, switch to the other leg, and/or perform other balancing actions. The game of Simon Says is the perfect venue for these activities. When inclement winter weather limits your ability to play outdoors, seize the opportunity and accept the challenge to focus on physical activities indoors. The benefits a good movement curriculum can provide is well worth the extra time and effort it may take to plan and execute. The children you serve will experience improved gross motor skills, as well as increased self-esteem and confidence!

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