Building Gross Motor Skills into Kindergarten
For most children, the transition into kindergarten is such an exciting milestone! As parents, it’s often a time to reflect on our child’s development and make sure they are set up for success for a new year ahead - both mentally and physically.
Physiotherapists Jennifer Halfin and Kasha Pyka (from Toronto Kids Physio) work with lots of children from infancy through to school age in a private physiotherapy clinic designed exclusively for kids! They have compiled a few activities you can try with your child at home that will help to physically prepare them for some activities or movements that they may encounter at kindergarten.
“When we educate families on what gross motor skills their children should have and when, we always start by informing them that exposure to physical activity is key not only to keep up with their peers; but to also prepare them for the long and energy-taxing demands of school in general”, said Kasha. “Before kindergarten starts, there is much less structure and expectations on children. Some children might have older siblings that they try to keep up with, or maybe they’ve been going to gymnastics class since they were little so they already have great skills prior to going into kindergarten. But not every child has these opportunities and all children develop differently, so some might be really good at spelling their name and counting to 10 before going into kindergarten, but may not have some of the foundational movement skills yet”, said Jennifer.
During the period of 4 to 6 years of age, children are learning how to move their bodies and are working on three basic fundamental movements:
1. Stationary skills
Movement skills performed “on the spot” without traveling across the floor or surface
This includes: balancing, bending, twisting, lifting
For stationary skills at the entering kindergarten age range (i.e. 4-6 years of age), children should be able to stand on one foot for 5-10 seconds - which allows them to participate in games that involve kicking or “freeze”-type movements. Stationary skills also involve a lot of core strength, which they will also need in order to be able to sit up nice and tall at their desks - for prolonged periods of time.. To help progress their stationary skills, Physio Kasha suggests “creating a routine at home, like brushing their teeth, where your child stands with one foot on a stool and the other on the floor - switching each foot in the morning and evening”. She also suggests sitting on unstable surfaces (like pillows or couch cushions placed on the floor) in order to work on the core muscles.
2. Locomotion skills
Movement skills that incorporate traveling across the floor or surface
This includes: rolling, jumping, hopping, running, galloping
For locomotion skills, children should be able to jump forward, up in the air, and down surfaces by the time they enter kindergarten - ensuring that they’re pushing off and landing with both feet at the same time. This not only takes lower body strength, but also coordination - both of which need to be encouraged throughout play. To help progress these types of movements, Physio Jenn suggests “creating obstacle courses at home that incorporate multiple skills at a time, or simply working on going up and down stairs. If these aren’t accessible to you due to space, having your child walk on inclines/ramps outdoors or couch cushions at home will help build the strength and coordination they need.”
3. Manipulative (ball) skills
Movement skills involving the control of objects, such as balls, primarily with the hands or feet; may also involve racquets or bats
This includes: bouncing, throwing, catching, kicking, striking
Children should be able to throw and catch smaller items; as well as kick balls with good contact and at targets. “Sometimes children aren’t exposed to ball-type games, which is totally okay, so starting slow and easy is the key! If your child has trouble catching a ball, you can play catch with larger stuffed animals, focusing on hugging the stuffie into their chest” says Physio Jenn. “Once they’ve mastered catching larger items, you can make the items smaller; and start having them “toss” them into laundry baskets to focus on targeting and hand-eye coordination.”
No matter where a child’s skills are compared to their peers, Physiotherapists Jenn and Kasha mention that “each child is on their own trajectory and as long as they’re making gains every 2-4 weeks (e.g. playing outside longer, not getting as fatigued, or building confidence to want to try new activities) then they are making great progress!” The best way to support your child and their development is to get outside and be active, or you can try a few of these activities at home! If you notice differences between your child and their peers, or if you are curious about development, foot positioning, skills, posture, or just want to improve your child’s confidence, Physiotherapy is a great option to help them have fun - all while getting them stronger!
-Jennifer Halfin & Kasha Pyka