Building the Foundations for Gross and Fine Motor Skills

What is Coordination?

Physical coordination skills involve development of:

  • Large muscles: arms, legs, torso (Gross motor)
  • Small muscles: hands, fingers, wrists, toes (Fine motor)
  • Balance
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Spatial awareness – the body as it moves in the environment

An infant is born with limited coordination abilities. Your baby’s total physical coordination and spatial awareness will naturally begin to develop as you interact with him/her and provide age-appropriate objects and activities to explore in a variety of indoor and outdoor environments.

As children develop their large muscle coordination they can do activities such as roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, and run. As they enhance their balance skills, they also will be able to kick and throw a ball, and walk on a curb or on another narrow pathway.

Developing small muscle coordination enables children to: squeeze your hand, grasp toys such as rattles and teething rings, to pick up finger foods, use a spoon, use a crayon and cut with scissors. Providing toys and tools for them also promotes their eye-hand coordination. One benchmark example is the day the food on the spoon makes it into their mouths, instead of landing on the bib! There’s also more good information here

Games and Toys that Build Coordination Skills

There are a wide variety of games and toys you can purchase that promote the development of children’s coordination skills. Some great choices are:

Toddlers explore the concept of balance and enhance gross motor skills.

This game helps children increase their fine motor and eye-hand coordination skills.

A challenging game that promotes eye-hand coordination

Good for young children of multiple ages for building confidence as they are developing their balance skills

Doing yoga poses enhances children’s spatial awareness, gross motor skills and balance.

As children grow older and have experiences that continuously promote their physical coordination, they increase their ability to engage in individual and group games. Lori A. Smith, president of the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance reports: “A child’s physical coordination will ultimately have a bearing on his skill level in sports, academic performance and even attitudes about school and education”.

Activities to Promote Coordination

Some low-cost activities that build large muscle coordination skills for children toddler ages and up include:

  • Rolling, bouncing, and tossing balls into a box or basket;
  • Putting a ball into a towel or blanket and tossing it into the air for the child to catch;
  • Placing a small stick or flat object on the ground and having the child try to hit it with a ball;
  • Placing a jump rope at floor level for a toddler to step over it, then gently wriggling it faster to create a bigger challenge;
  • Slowly raising the jump rope level higher as the child becomes successful at stepping or jumping over it;
  • Encouraging the child to turn the rope and jump over it, or have 2 people turn it and have the child jump over it;
  • Singing and doing “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes with your child;
  • Encouraging your child to make up dances to his/her favorite music;
  • Providing props such as scarves and streamers for your child to use while dancing

Finger plays are activities that can have no cost at all if you choose to use one’s own hands and fingers to promote small muscle development. Some examples are:

  •     The  Eensy Weensy Spider (also known as Itsy Bitsy Spider)
  •     Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
  •   Where is Thumbkin
  •  This Old Man Came Rolling Home (Knick knack paddy wack)
  • This Little Piggy Went to Market

YouTube has a range of Finger Play Songs for Preschoolers that will also provide the words and music to share with your child.

Books That Encourage Coordination

There are also children’s books available which include characters engaging in different kinds of physical activities throughout the story. Here are some of my favorites:

Children really enjoy running in place, moving their arms as they pretend to swim, and inventing other movements that match the story as you read with them.

The first page of the book has Mom telling the dog, “Look after the baby, Carl, I’ll be back shortly.” Then there are pictures with no words of how Carl is providing the baby with fun physical play while Mom is gone. (And then a few words on the last page.)

In this book Ned discovers how even though unfortunate things can happen, it can be fortunate if you have the physical skills to deal with them.

Dr. Seuss has some silly characters explore feet in a variety of funny ways.

Young children enjoy turning the pages of board books and as they get older, learning to carefully turn the paper pages in hardcover and paperback books. Turning pages may seem easy to adults, but it takes a lot of finger coordination to do so, as well as trying to hold the book while accomplishing the task!

Children today spend a lot of time playing with toys and games on technology devices that require using only fingers, hands and wrists. Maybe arms get involved if they are using a larger game device linked to a large screen. And hand-eye coordination might improve. But few movements required to play the games involve promoting large muscle and balance skills, or spatial awareness in the environment.

It’s important to intentionally provide games and activities in your child’s daily life that will promote his/her development in all of the physical coordination skill areas mentioned.

In addition to preparing our children for the future technological skills she/he will need next, playing together with them in ways that promote overall physical coordination will provide opportunities for them to be more successful toward reaching their highest level of potential.

Karen is an Early Childhood Specialist with more than 40 years of experience in teaching, consulting, and curriculum development for young children.

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