Gross motor skills are physical skills that require large muscles to enable whole body movement. This includes activities like walking, running, jumping, throwing, kicking, catching, swimming, biking, and more.
Why are gross motor skills important in children?
Gross motor skills are crucial for many everyday activities. For example, your child is using these skills when he or she is getting in and out of bed, climbing on the playground, or running around with friends. Throwing, catching, and kicking during sports practices and games also use gross motor skills.
Why do some children have poor gross motor skills?
Poor gross motor skills can be the result of birth defects, injury, low muscle tone, or lack of practice. Increased screen time, sedentary lifestyles, and less time playing outside can all contribute to poor motor skills, in addition to congenital conditions like cerebral palsy. If you’re concerned about your child’s motor skills, visit a medical professional for evaluation and help.
How can I improve my child’s gross motor skills?
In addition to physical and occupational therapy, certain activities that exercise your child’s gross motor skills can help them improve. Keep reading for twenty-six fun games and activities that will work your child’s gross motor skills!
26 Gross Motor Games and Activities for Kids
is for Animal Walks
Have fun pretending to be animals. You can use traditional fitness exercises like bear crawls, (crouching down and walking on your hands and feet with your back bent) or crab walks (sit with your hands and feet on the floor, your fingers pointing toward your feet, push up and walk on your hands and feet). Or get silly, practice waddling like ducks, hopping like bunnies, or galloping like horses and see where your imagination takes you.
is for Balance Beam Tightrope Walking
Play circus using a balance beam. Start with an affordable foam beam that sits close to the floor. Then let your tightrope walker move onto a taller beam as they gain confidence and experience. Your child can start with holding your hand and standing on one foot before moving on to walking on the beam, then walking backwards on the beam, and even hopping along it.
is for Clap and Catch
This is a great game to play individually or in a group. If playing in a group setting, have everyone stand in a circle. The first person with the ball should throw it up into the air, clap once, then catch the ball before it falls. The second person throws it, claps twice, and catches the ball. Each person has to clap one more time than the previous person.
If the ball falls to the ground before being caught, that person is out and the next player must try to achieve the same number of claps. Play until one person remains, they win! Your child can also play this game alone and attempt to get a better score each time.
is for Dance Party
Blast the music and just freestyle dance, grooving to the tunes with kids of any age. Or enroll your child in a dance class to learn specific skills. Teach your little ones songs with movement, including “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” or “I’m a Little Teapot” to practice listening skills, following directions, and gross motor skills all at the same time.
is for Egg Race
Play this classic game outside using one egg and one spoon per person. Your child should balance the egg on the spoon and race down and back to a tree, cone, or other marker. Drop your egg and *splat* you’re out or you can go get a new egg and start from the beginning (depending on the rules you decide to follow). Does the sky look like it’s ready to rain? Or are you looking to avoid a messy clean up? Play indoors using egg shaped hand exercisers instead.
is for Flashcards (and Frog Leaps)
Flashcards are a great way to make gross motor activities more fun. Just grab a pack of notecards and write in activities like frog leaps, jumps, hopscotch, jumping jacks, high knees, springs, and other ideas. Then grab a stopwatch, you can even use your phone, and set a time limit for each activity (thirty seconds, one minute, or whatever length of time makes sense depending on your child’s skill level). Let your child flip over the card, do the activity, and then choose another.
is for Games
Get active with common childhood games. These games are great for playing with siblings or friends.
- The leader for the game is “Simon”. He or she gives instructions, like “Simon says do some jumping jacks” and all of the other players perform the action. If Simon gives instructions without saying “Simon says” first, the other players shouldn’t follow the instructions. If they do, then they are eliminated from the game.
Mother May I
- One child is chosen to be “Mother”. He or she should stand a decent distance from the other players, with his or her back toward them. One at a time the other players get to make a request, “Mother may I take...(5 baby steps, 10 giant steps, 2 big leaps, 6 bunny hops, etc.)? Mother can either reply “Yes, you may.” or “No, you may not. But you can take…(2 bunny hops, 6 baby steps, etc.) The first child to reach Mother first wins and gets to be Mother for the next round.
Follow the Leader
- One leader moves around performing various actions (marching, clapping, rolling on the ground...). The followers must mimic the leader. Those who don’t or who lag behind are eliminated from the game.
Duck, Duck, Goose
- All of the players except the person who is “It” should sit in a circle. It walks around the circle tapping each player on the head and saying “duck”. When It decides, he or she can tap a player and say “goose”. This player needs to stand up and chase It around the circle. If the person who is It, sits in goose’s seat without being tagged, the goose becomes the new It. If the goose tags It before they make it to their seat, It must sit in the middle of the circle until another It is tagged.
- Choose one person to be “It”. This person counts to ten, then starts to chase the other players trying to tag them by lightly tapping them. When someone is tagged, they become the new It. Designate a safe zone, where players can rest for 10-30 seconds without being tagged. Mix it up with variations like hide-and-go-seek tag and freeze tag.
is for High Steps
Your child can practice taking high steps using Riverstones. They are a fun way for children to work on balance, jumping, and stepping. The Riverstones set includes stepping stones of various heights with rubber feet to keep them in place. Your child can take "high steps" to walk from one raised riverstonne to the next or even jump!
is for Ice Cream Race
This fun race can be played as a typical race or a relay. All you need are agility cones as your “ice cream cones” and Rolyan Energizing Exercise Balls to be your “scoop of ice cream”. Have the children balance the balls on the upturned cones and race to a preset marker and back. To turn the race into a relay, give each team two cones and one ball. The first child can race down and back with their ice cream and then attempt to transfer the scoop to the other cone without dropping it. If the ball falls, the first player must pick it up, race down and back again, and then re-attempt to transfer the scoop.
is for Jumping
Jumping is a great gross motor activity to work your child’s leg muscles. It’s also a good way for your children to burn off extra energy. And what’s more fun than jumping on a trampoline? Big trampolines can be fun for bouncing outside, while a mini trampoline lets your child play even during a cold winter or rainy spring. For portable jumping, bring along a jump rope on your next visit to the park.
is for Kickball
Revisit your elementary school days by playing kickball with your kids. TheraBand Stability Balls are great for a variety of activities. You can even use one as a kickball or soccer ball. All you need is a ball, four bases, and plenty of players. This game is very similar to baseball. The fielding team pitches the kickball underhand to the first person on the opposing team who is up to bat. That player tries to kick the ball and run to first base. Fielders can get the runner out by catching the ball on the fly, forcing an out, or touching the runner while holding the ball. Some teams decide that hitting the runner below the shoulders with the ball also counts as an out.
A pitch may be a strike or ball, the kick may be fair or foul, and three strikes make an out. When the kicking team gets three outs, they switch with the fielding team. You can decide on the number of innings depending on how much time you have to play. Build throwing, kicking, and catching skills while playing in the backyard or at a local park.
is for Lava
“The Floor is Lava” or “Hot Lava” is a great indoor game for burning up energy on rainy days. One player shouts “The floor is lava”. Everyone has five seconds to stand on furniture to avoid getting melted by the “lava””. Then, the players must move around the room without touching the floor. They can lay down pillows and other objects to walk on instead. Riverstones are a fun addition to the game. The “stones” can be used as stepping stones from one piece of furniture to the next. In some versions of the game, if you touch the floor you’re out. In others, you just lose whatever touched the floor (your foot touched so now you have to play on one leg) until you do a silly task or reach a designated area and can “regenerate”.
is for Marching Through the Maze
Head back outside for this chalk game. This is a great activity because you can adapt it to fit your child’s age and ability. Use a piece of chalk to draw out a large maze on your driveway. Then have your children march through the maze and try to find their way out. You could also play this game indoors using tape, but chalk is definitely the superior choice for easy clean up.
is for Nighttime Scavenger Hunt
Make a scavenger hunt more exciting by playing at night or inside the house with the lights off. You can hide items and put them on a list for your child to find. Or stick to the traditional version by hiding written clues that lead your child to the next clue and eventually to the “treasure”. Let your child play with only a flashlight to guide them. Play together inside and leave a few lights on if your child is scared of the dark. The treasure can be small toys, a yummy dessert, or whatever else your child would enjoy. This would be a fun game before a movie night, with the treasure being popcorn, snacks, and drinks to enjoy during the movie.
is for Obstacle Course
Obstacle course races allow your child to use a variety of gross motor skills. You can adapt the course to work on specific skills and make it easier or harder depending on your child’s needs. You can use many of the items that are also used in other activities on this list. Have your child kick a ball into a goal, walk across a balance beam, hop from one riverstone to another, and weave around cones. Add a tunnel to crawl through, have your child slide down the slide, and ask them to help you think of other fun obstacles.
is for Playground
Head out to a local park and take advantage of their playground equipment. The swings, seesaw, merry-go-round, slides, tubes, monkey bars, and other structures are all great options to exercise your child’s gross motor skills. If it’s raining, use this kit in a doorway so your child can still swing and play on the trapeze bar.
is for Quick Race
Have your child sit or kneel on plastic scooter board and race down the hall. The scooters can be used on any flat surface indoors and out. Link to boards together for partner races.
is for Rocker
Use a rocker board to work on your child’s balance. Time how long your child can sit, kneel, or stand on the board. Practice rocking from side to side or front to back. Once your child is more comfortable using the board, have them throw bean bags into buckets, play a clapping game with you while balancing, or reach to catch and pop soap bubbles as you blow them.
is for Stability Ball
Stability balls, also called yoga balls, are great for all ages. Older children can use the ball to bounce, stretch, and exercise. They can also lift, carry, or roll the ball. You can help your toddler sit on the ball and bounce. Add to the fun by singing silly songs when bouncing.
Try this song, “This is the way the ladies ride, ladies ride, ladies ride, This is the way the ladies ride all through the town” repeat the song bouncing more each time but with gentlemen and then cowboys. Or sing this fun song, “We’re going down a smooth road, smooth road, smooth road” repeat bouncing a bit hard with bumpy road, then rough road. Finish with “Oh no, a hole!” and lift your child up high, helping them fall onto a pile of pillows, soft mat, etc.
*Bonus* S is for Spin Disc. Great for kids who crave movement, a Spin Disc can be used while sitting, kneeling, or lying on top of the disc. Lightweight and easy to store, it’s the perfect toy for indoor or outdoor use.
is for TheraBand Exercises
TheraBand elastic resistance bands can be used to strengthen muscles used in gross motor activities. A beginner kit, is a great starting level for kids. Have your child stand on the band holding one end in each hand and perform bicep curls to strengthen their upper body. Or have them sit on the ground, legs extended with the band against the bottom of their feet. While holding one end of the band in each hand, your child can pretend to row a boat for arm exercise. Check out more TheraBand exercise ideas on Performance Health Academy.
is for Underwater Diving
Swimming is a great gross motor activity. Whether your child is just learning to swim and needs to use a swim bar or is an accomplished underwater swimmer, the pool is a great place to have fun and get some exercise. If your child has mastered swimming, teach them to dive and retrieve diving rings or sticks. You can time them or add swim through rings for an extra challenge.
is for Valentine’s Heart Pop
Cut out some paper hearts and tape bubble wrap on top. Lay the hearts out in a circle, a fun pattern, or randomly. Create cards with different actions on them like leap, skip, jump, walk, hop on one foot, etc. Start playing music. Pick a card and have your child follow the actions from heart to heart popping bubbles as they go. When the music stops have your child freeze, pick a new card and announce the new action. Restart the music and keep playing.
is for Walking the Dog
Everything is more fun when you bring your dog along. Go for a walk with your child and your dog. Don’t have a pet? No problem, head out for a walk anyway and let your child pull a wagon or push a baby doll stroller to switch things up.
is for X&O Tic Tac Toe
Create a giant outdoor tic tac toe board using pvc pipe, pool noodles, tape on a plastic tablecloth, or string by forming a 3x3 grid. Gather ten frisbees. Use tape to create a large X on five frisbees and a large O on the other five frisbees. Assign one player Xs and the other player Os. Take turns throwing the frisbees onto the board, attempting to get three in a row to win. If aiming frisbees is too difficult for your younger children, you can use two sets of different colored bean bags instead.
is for Yoga
Do some yoga with your child. Lay out a yoga mat and start with some basic poses. Downward facing dog, cat pose, cow pose, cobra pose, bow pose, and child’s pose are all a great place to start.
is for Zig Zag Spy Maze
This fun game needs just two things, string and a prize. Zig zag the string up, down, and across the play area, a hallway works well, to create a “laser grid” for your secret agents to navigate. Wind it around door knobs, furniture, and other sturdy anchor points. If someone touches the string, you don’t want anything to fall or break.
Introduce the game to your child by explaining their “mission” to get the prize and bring it back without touching the string. You can have them choose code names and get dressed in all black spy clothes or disguises. Then time your children as they twist, crawl, and climb through the laser maze to bring back the treasure.
Games and activities are a fun way to work on your child’s gross motor skill development and enjoy active play at the same time. We hope your child enjoys these activities from A to Z!
Medical Disclaimer: The information provided on this site, including text, graphics, images and other material, are for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.