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Physical Therapy Exercises for Gross Motor Development

by Christina Schnell

Jumping, skipping, running and throwing are synonymous with children's playtime. However, participating in any of these activities requires developing gross motor skills, which encompasses the strength and coordination of large muscle groups throughout your child's body. Physical therapists who work with children whose gross motor development is delayed, or otherwise impaired, rely on a variety of fun, playful exercises that help develop this important area of his well-being.

Water Activities

Anything relating to water is especially appealing to your child in warm weather. Swimming, even if it means doing the "doggy paddle" while wearing a life jacket, strengthens your child's upper body as she reaches and pulls through the water and kicks her legs. For younger children, leaping through the sprinkler or running around with friends trying to dodge a rotating sprinkler builds coordination and strength in her legs and core, according to Angie Dorrell, M.A., NAEYC accreditation validator and former commissioner, for Early Childhood News.

Open Space Exercises

Skipping, hopping and leaping are exciting and versatile, particularly when there's an alternative goal, like jumping between two lines or leaping over a pillow. Most physical therapists work by setting small yet challenging goals for your child to accomplish using a few basic items. Stretch a jump rope into a straight line and have him hop down the line with two feet, then one foot, eventually hopping back and forth over the line. Leaping between two points on a padded or carpeted floor, and gradually increasing the distance between those points, is another way to encourage gross motor development.

Throwing Exercises

Throwing and catching weighted objects, such as bean bags or light-weight medicine balls, can target your child's arms, shoulders, back and torso. Catching these same objects can also improve balance because she must tighten and stabilize her core muscles against the impact of the ball. For younger children, start with large, inflatable balls over a short distance the she can easily catch. As her skills improve, practice playing catch with balls of different weight, shape and size.

Repetitive Exercises

Exercises that require your child to repeat a motion continuously, such as pedaling a tricycle, can build endurance and coordination. Pedaling a training bike with his feet, jumping on a miniature exercise trampoline or bouncing on a bouncy ball while gripping the exterior handle are all activities that require your child to stabilize his core muscles while coordinating the large muscles in his legs.

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