Gross motor skills describe a child's ability to coordinate, plan and execute movements using a large number of muscles and muscle groups, according to the Flinders University Early Childhood Development Center. In short, gross motor skills enable children to do things like ride bikes, jump rope and climb jungle gyms. Poor gross motor skills can impact everything from muscle tone to social confidence and a child's willingness to try new activities on the playground. A wide variety of enjoyable activities that appeal to young children can serve to improve children's gross motor skills.
Jumping develops overall gross muscle control and coordination. Jump rope and hopscotch require little equipment and can be done anywhere, but you can also invent your own challenges, such as jumping over increasingly taller objects, which should be soft in case a child falls. Jumping forward and backward, side-to-side in a four-square style game is another way to encourage a broader range of jumping motion.
Climbing not only builds physical strength, it also improves motor planning by requiring children to think about their next move before acting. Set up small obstacle courses of firm pillows and bean bags, and pile them against the sofa so kids can climb to the top. For older, more advanced kids, encourage them to climb on the swing set or up the ladder to the slide. The important point is that children move between two points using both their arms and legs.
Balancing requires controlling several different muscle groups, from the torso and core through the legs and ankles. For younger children, hopping in and out of chalk circles on one foot or seeing how long they can balance on one foot is helpful. Another activity is walking up and down stairs, alternating one foot at a time. Older children can play full-body balance games like Twister or practice walking a straight line or low balance beam.
Kicking requires balance, motor planning and muscle strength. Children should first learn to kick a ball while standing before attempting to do a running kick. Include balls of different sizes and weights and make a game of seeing which ball they can kick the farthest. Tie a small weighted ball to the top of a swing-set and have your child practice kicking it from side to side. To avoid injury, you may want to try activities on a soft surface or grass, as the momentum of a misplaced running kick can knock a small child over quite forcefully.