Gross Motor Development in Early Childhood
What is Gross Motor Development?
“Movement, or physical activity, is thus an essential factor in intellectual growth, which depends upon the impressions received from outside. Through movement, we come in contact with external reality, and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas.”
~ Dr Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood
Gross motor development involves the movement of the large muscles of the body i.e. the arms, legs and torso. These movements are also referred to as large body movements. In infanthood, gross motor movements include all major developmental milestones related to the whole body – rocking from side to side, turning over, getting up on fours, different kinds of crawls, sitting up, creeping, cruising and standing. In toddlerhood, gross motor movements include walking, running, pushing, pulling, jumping, climbing and skills that require eye-hand/leg coordination like throwing, kicking and catching. Gross motor development includes:
- Balance and equilibrium
- Physical strength (especially of the core)
- Reaction time
- Body awareness
Why is gross motor development important?
- Helps children perform everyday movements of life independently
- Improves depth perception
- Aids the development of the vestibular system which is in charge of balance and orientation
- Helps in development of proprioception i.e. understanding where our body is in relation to our surroundings
- When children have good gross motor skills, it improves their self-esteem
- Helps children to navigate and explore the world around them
- Helps build core body and muscle strength
- Promotes the ability to participate in independent and social play
- Aids to participate in academic learning by helping them maintain the right posture and develop fine motor skills required for learning
- Helps increase balance and body awareness
- The ability to move efficiently has a direct impact on cognitive development
- Helps develop stamina, balance, speed and endurance which are important basic skills for excelling in any sport
- Increases the child’s ability to assess risk
- Releases the pent-up energy in children leading to better mental and emotional health
- Builds critical thinking and problem-solving skills
How do you promote gross motor development?
Gross motor development can be encouraged both outdoors and indoors but since we live in a world where it is not safe to let children play in public parks or playgrounds, here are some ways you can encourage gross motor development at home.
- Slithering and Crawling (5-8 months)
We can provide rolling rattles and even interlocking discs – we roll them in front of the baby and this motivates them to move towards the toy.
These rattles are designed in a way that they don't move too much or too little, thereby providing optimum challenge without frustrating the child.
- Pulling to stand (8-10 months)
We can provide heavy furniture for the child to use as support to pull up and stand. Any furniture that is not safe for the child to pull up against, must be put away during this stage.
- Brachiation (9-10 months)
Brachiation involves holding on to something and hanging with their hands while lifting their feet. Bracchiation increases lung capacity and improves respiration thereby increasing oxygen flow to the brain. It also helps build muscle strength in the upper body Having an indoor play gym supports the child’s need for and interest in brachiation.
- Pushing and Pulling (12+ months)
A walking wagon with something heavy inside provides a child with the experience of pushing and pulling safely and purposefully.
A walking wagon is used in Montessori schools and homes to provide children with opportunities to practice walking and refining their sense of balance and coordination. Apart from supporting their need to exercise ‘maximum effort’, they also aid the child’s ‘transporting schema’.
- Climbing (9+ months)
Fixed climbing equipment like the Pikler or rope ladders (indoor gym) to increase challenge can be provided to help children practice climbing in a safe environment. Climbing helps children assess risk, improves spatial awareness and develop trust in their own body. Climbing also increases and maintains flexibility, builds upper body strength and strengthens hand grip.
- Swinging (9+ months)
You can set up swings at home like the one in the indoor play gym. Apart from being hugely popular with children, swinging provides benefits of increasing spatial awareness, handgrip, improves the vestibular system and proprioception.