Children have a natural instinct to play. It is evident in their early smiles, their giggles when we are silly, and their first games of peek-a-boo. As parents, we can harness this natural inclination that our children have to play and help them to grow into happy, active, and confident people.
It can be easy to overlook the importance of explicitly teaching children active motor skills such as running, jumping, skipping, climbing and catching. As adults, we can tend to think that children will learn these tasks naturally as they grow. Yet, the truth is, children need time, space, support, and practice to adequately learn these important skills.
In fact, the importance of these skills are not just physical. There are emotional and cognitive benefits associated with the development of active motor skills as well.
- When children experience success in the development of large motor skills (catching, throwing, skating, etc.), it increases their confidence, which can make them more likely to engage in physical activities with friends and at school.
- Research suggests that there may be a link between the development of active motor skills and the development of working memory.
The good news is that as parents these skills can be mastered simply by tapping into our children’s natural inclination to play! As an ambassador of the Together Counts program, an important focus is finding ways to have fun while getting active. Below is a list of fun, tried and true activities (you will recognize them from your childhood) that will give your children a wonderful foundation in developing active motor skills and get their heart rates pumping:
- Play Ball – Playing with balls of all sizes allows for children to run, catch, and throw. Just by going outside with a ball or two and no pre-planned agenda, parents and children can enjoy quality, active time together.
- Jump – Dramatic play that incorporates active movements can be a fun way to get little bodies moving. Can you jump like a Kangaroo?
- Skip – Surprise your children and suggest that you skip, rather than walk to the store or back to your car while doing errands together.
- Fly a Kite – Flying kites involves lots of running, large arm movements, hand eye coordination, and hours of fun.
- Hide and Go Seek – A good old fashioned game of hide-and-seek is sure to delight your little ones and will certainly get them running!
- Tag – All children love a good game of tag and it is a great way to get in a workout for the whole family.
- Simon Says – Simon Says is a fun way to explore all kinds of movement with the little ones in your life. Simon says, do 15 jumping jacks!
- Hopscotch – Playing hopscotch will bring back lots of wonderful memories. As you play, you will witness firsthand, just how challenging jumping on one foot can be!
- Roller Skating – Feeling confident on roller skates is a huge accomplishment for children. With just a little bit of practice, your child can accomplish a lot! We even like to roller skate in the garage during the winter months!
- Jump Rope – Jump rope offers a fun way to get moving and is wonderful for developing overall coordination.
So, while it is important that kids master basic cognitive skills, its is equally imperative that they are given plenty of time for active play, so that they confidently master their gross motor skills and live long, healthy, and active lives.
Mariah Bruehl is a parent, educator, and author of the book Playful Learning: Develop Your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder. With over 15 years’ experience working in the field of education and a Master of Science degree in Education from Bank Street College, she brought her expertise online, creating the Parents’ Choice Gold Medal award-winning Web site Playful Learning. In 2011 she launched the Playful Learning Ecademy, which offers engaging online learning experiences for kids, parents, and teachers.