Back in the olden days, my parents had to walk to school 2 miles each way. Barefoot. Uphill. And they had to walk home for lunch, too. Motor skill development wasn’t such a problem back then.
As a child, I never questioned how it was possible that it was uphill both ways, but now I get the feeling they may have been exaggerating. Just a bit.
In today’s day and age, kids hardly ever walk to school. Or anywhere, for that matter. Even the ones who live down the block get dropped off by their parents on their way to work. I can see how this is easier during the morning rush and safer than letting your child wander the streets alone. But kids need exercise. And the truth is, there are easy ways to make sure you are supporting your child’s health and gross motor skill development every single day.
Improving Your Child’s Functional Skills
This post is part of a 12-month series called Functional Skills for Kids written by pediatric OTs and PTs to post on different developmental topics that impact functional skills for kids.
This series will be a wonderful resource for parents, teachers, and therapists to learn about all the different activities a child performs each day. Every month, each therapist will discuss different aspects of functional skills. Each childhood function will be broken down into developmental timelines, fine motor considerations, gross motor considerations, sensory considerations, visual perceptual considerations, accommodations and modifications, activity ideas, and more.
This month’s topic in the “Functional Skills for Kids” blog hop is the Community, so check out the landing page for the rest of our posts and information on all things related!
CORE STRENGTH AND GROSS MOTOR DEVELOPMENT
My brother used to give his little daughter a piggyback down the block to her bus stop every morning and back every afternoon. It was their thing. Then one day his back was bothering him and he had her walk home next to him from the bus stop. He said he couldn’t believe how tired she was and how much she complained. “She can’t even walk down the block!” He decided then and there to change up their routine. She needed to walk to the bus stop, and then she could sit on his shoulders to wait. Pretty soon she could do it. Then they started racing each other home. Only a few weeks later, she could beat him. Today, she is a star athlete. Watch out world.
Why are children’s core strength, motor skills, endurance, and stamina so poor? Is it our daily routine that interferes with their core strength and overall health? Is this why many kids can’t walk more than a block without huffing, puffing, and asking to be driven? Why are “12 million children and adolescents considered obese, and more than 23 million are considered overweight?” (Facts About Childhood Obesity). Is motor skill development being overlooked?
One Shockingly Simple Way to Improve Your Child’s Health
“Occupational Therapists teach strategies to incorporate healthy habits and routines into daily activities for clients of all ages and abilities” (Gupta & Chandler, AOTA). A child’s occupation is to play, and there are many opportunities within the community to use play to improve motor skill development, core strength, endurance, and coordination. Children just need grown-ups to show them how.
According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, “the percentage of children in America aged 6–11 years who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. In adolescents, the percentage aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period” (CDC, 2015).
This is truly an epidemic.
The easiest way to ensure your kiddo gets gross motor exercise is to walk them to or from school. If this takes too long, ride bikes, roller skate, take the scooter, anything! Do it just on the way home. Have them take turns pulling each other in the wagon. Anything is better than nothing. If it’s safe, have them go with a friend or a group of friends. Of course, sometimes there just isn’t enough time and it’s not realistic. Parent have to get to work, and they don’t want to leave their kid walking alone or waiting at the bus stop by themselves. It’s a scary world out there. So they drive.
Improve Your Child’s Motor Skill Development within the Community
If your morning routine is too tight to work in the exercise, squeeze it into the rest of your day or on weekends. There are so many opportunities in the community to get some gross motor exercise in. Many kids love the “Fit Bit” which allows them to keep track of their activity level every day. There are many more affordable options, such as the Garmin activity tracker. You can even set up a challenge on it between two kids or parent and child. This adds some motivation and healthy competition to the game.
- The Supermarket – Have your child go through the aisles to get items for you, instead of sitting in the cart or standing next to it. Pushing the cart is great for upper extremity strengthening, and carrying heavy items such as milk or water is heavy work, too.
- The Park or Baseball field – when other children have a game or a practice play velcro catch, zoomball or frisbee with your child. This is great for working on gross motor skills, but it also works on visual tracking, eye-hand coordination, and upper extremity strength. Not to mention the bonding with Mom or Dad.
- Your backyard or street – parents need the weekends to get caught up with laundry, cleaning, etc. Instead of having kids hang out in their rooms or watching TV, send them outside. If your neighborhood is safe, organize a group game of hide and seek, freeze tag or kickball. So many kids don’t even know how to play these games anymore. Once you teach them, they can do it on their own.
- Sporting Events – walking up and down the bleachers is awesome for improving balance, bilateral coordination, core strength, and leg strength. Walking or balancing on the bleacher seats is great, too!
- Curbs and sidewalks – remember “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back?” What a horrible rhyme by the way. But the concept was good. Hop over the cracks. Jump from Section to Section. In other words: move at more than a leisurely pace. Jump down from curbs, try to use them as a balance beam.
Community resources are amazing for Motor skill development!
- Your Local Playground. Your neighborhood school has a playground, which is not only great for motor skill development, but is also fantastic for socializing, core strength, balance, coordination, and sensory processing skills. Go on the swings, teach your kid how to pump, have them try the monkey bars. It’s a child’s job to play and learn how to move their bodies. These simple movement opportunities can make all the difference in their health. It can even improve their fine motor skills! Many playgrounds also have painted hopscotch boards or four square. Check out our Functional Skills for Kids Landing Page for more ideas on how to use the playground to help your child.
- The Beach or Local Pool. Swimming is an AMAZING way to work on motor skill development, core strength, and coordination. Not to mention the countless sensory processing opportunities presented by the water, the sand, the smells of the water, etc. For more information about the benefits of swimming, click here.
- Your Local Library. In addition to reading programs and book clubs, your community library may have enjoyable activities for kids that can promote their health and core strength. Yoga classes, dancing, and even cooking can help promote motor skill development, strength, and coordination.
This Motor Skills Development post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids series. Check out all of the bloggers who are participating and learn more about the series by clicking on the link above.
For more information on the components and considerations related to Community, stop by and see what the other Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists on the Functional Skills for Kids team have to say:
Attention and Behavior Concerns and Independence in the Community | The OT Tool Box
Modifications for Kids with Special Needs in the Community | Growing Hands-On Kids
Calming Games and Activities for Outings | The Inspired Treehouse
Working on following Directions When Out | Therapy Fun Zone
- Childhood Obesity Facts. (2015, August 27). Retrieved July 19, 2016, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm
- Gupta, J., Chandler, B., & Toto, P. (n.d.). Occupational Therapy’s Role in Health Promotion. doi:http://www.aota.org/-/media/corporate/files/aboutot/professionals/whatisot/cy/fact-sheets/factsheet_healthpromotion.pdf
- Facts About Childhood Obesity. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://ahealthieramerica.org/resources/facts/
- National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2011: With Special Features on Socioeconomic Status and Health . Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2012.
- Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association 2014;311(8):806-814.