If you take your child to the playground frequently, you might notice their development from week to week. One week they can only use the stairs to get to the slide, but a few weeks they’re using all the climbers on the play structure! You’re noticing your child’s gross motor development, or the growth and strengthening of their large muscles.
There are ways simple ways families can encourage gross motor development in preschoolers. Here are some things to try next time you’re playing outside!
Let children try on their own –
While it can be tempting to pick up your small child and lift them up to the top of the playground structure, it won’t promote gross motor development. A good rule of thumb that many early childhood centers use: if they can’t get to the top by themselves, their bodies aren’t ready. If the child needs your help for the majority of the climbing, it’s probably not developmentally appropriate at that time.
If there are multiple ways to get to the slide, encourage your child to find a way that works for them. Stairs are great for toddlers and cautious preschoolers, while ladders and other climbers are great challenges for bigger kids. But you should encourage children to return to climbers that were difficult in the past. As they develop, they’ll be able to take on new gross motor challenges.
It’s ok to help children or model how to use the equipment. Sometimes holding a hand or pointing out where the child should put their foot next is a great way to be supportive without doing the gross motor work for them. And often giving a little bit of support will help children gain the confidence to try on their own the next time!
Hang upside down –
Kids naturally enjoy hanging upside down and there’s a good reason for that: it helps with their development! The vestibular system is the bodily system in charge of balance. Inside our inner ears, there is fluid that helps create a feeling of equilibrium. When we hang upside down or spin around, that fluid moves to help maintain our equilibrium.
For many children, hanging upside down provides stimulus for their vestibular system that makes it easier for them to regulate their bodies. Hanging upside down also builds strong muscles, including core and leg strength. Check out some of these ideas for fun ways to get your kids upside down.
Swinging can be a relaxing and soothing activity for babies and toddlers. As children get older, they can start learning how to pump their own legs to maintain speed on the swing. It’s an important developmental milestone for kids to be able to swing by themselves.
As an adult, you can encourage kids to practice swinging by reminding them of the pattern and motion of pumping their legs. Take breaks from pushing the swing so children can try pumping their own legs. It’s ok if they aren’t able to maintain the height or speed on the swing. Just trying to pump their legs will build stronger leg muscles and get them closer to swinging independently.
Use the equipment the “wrong” way –
If you remember elementary school playground rules, you might recall that climbing UP the slide was not allowed. But there are many developmental benefits to children when they climb up the slide.
If you have backyard playground equipment or are at a public playground, try allowing your child to climb up the slide. While schools have playground rules that prevent conflict or injury, families can allow more flexibility in other settings. And don’t worry about confusion: kids can easily follow different rules at different playgrounds.
Some benefits to climbing up the slide include gross motor development, increased balance and strength, and perseverance. Climbing up the slide can be a tricky task for children and can serve as an experiment as they learn more about their bodies and the best way to accomplish their goal of reaching the top.
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