Learning and Development

Gross motor skills – supporting physical development through outdoor play

  • Gross motor skills – supporting physical development through outdoor play

Gross motor skills are crucial to enable children to perform not only everyday activities, but to explore the natural world, says Carley Sefton…

1 | Get arty

There are so many great ways that art can flourish outdoors, while encouraging children to move around a large space. Take big pieces of paper and stick them up against a fence to draw or paint on. Make this a physical activity. Children will love taking giant, sweeping movements with their brushes, and creating drips and splatters across the paper. I really like this activity as children get to experience how the colours look and feel across different surfaces. On sunny days, you can even use the children’s shadows to draw around.

2 | Just keep digging

Who doesn’t love getting their hands a bit dirty? Give children the permission to dig to their heart’s content in earth or sand. The repetitive movements of digging, pushing, scooping, and lifting will build their strength and work the larger muscles in their body. If you’re short of space, try creating small world activities in a tyre filled with soil or sand, this can also create wonderful story ideas.

3 | Dance and more dance

Dance is a brilliant activity to build children’s gross motor skills, including balance, coordination, strength, and an awareness of their own body in the physical space. Think of sounds in nature like wind, rain, or thunder and use these to create dances. Research shows that classical music can have a profound effect on children – try playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and see how the children react.

4 | Green fingers

Gardening uses far more muscles than many of us give it credit for. From scooping up dirt and planting new seeds to pulling up weeds and harvesting, these outdoor tasks all call for hand-eye coordination, strength and balance. Giving children permission to lift heavy watering cans and explore the earth with a trowel will build their upper body strength and enhance their body management skills.

5 | Make music

There are countless ways that music can support gross motor skill development – and when you’re practising these activities outside, it adds a whole new layer to the experience. Taking a stick and running it along railings, banging stones together or using beaters to make sounds on different surfaces can help to develop young people’s emerging coordination skills. Plus, if children are producing these sounds while racing around outdoors, they get to work their strength and muscles too!

6 | Ignite imagination

Sometimes the simplest activities are the most powerful. Do you remember being young and darting around the playground pretending that you were riding your pet pony? Or racing your friend through the park in your invisible go-karts? These activities are brilliant when it comes to gross motor skills and children love it when you join in – there’s nothing funnier than a teacher being an elephant or a lion.

7 | Don’t stop moving!

Nature is full of amazing movements, so get the children to copy them from spinning sycamore seeds falling from a tree, to frogs jumping or worms slithering. Take your children on a nature walk and talk about all the movement they see. When you’re back or in a large space try and recreate them. You can offer blindfolds while they are doing it, to change their sensory experience.

Carley Sefton is the CEO of Learning through Landscapes – the UK’s leading outdoor learning and play charity.