Hop, skip, jump, push and pull are all skills needed, to build foundational gross motor coordination. Gross motor coordination activities are an engaging way to build these skills. Delays in gross motor coordination can impact the academic learning process of a child. These are skills that are needed to sit and engage in the classroom, participate in P.E./on the playground, navigate the school setting/bus, transition between classrooms/within the classroom, doff/don coats and backpacks, and transport of a lunch tray within the cafeteria. We’ve previously covered gross motor toy recommendations, so you’ll want to check out that resource, too.
Related, you’ll want to check out our blog post on indoor gross motor activities for preschoolers.
gross motor coordination
What exactly is gross motor coordination? Simply stated, it is the use of large muscle groups in controlled movement patterns that includes all extremities. Gross motor coordination is needed for a child to engage in coordinated and free play, navigation in their environments, and overall self-care.
If a child struggles with any of the following:
- core strength
- body awareness
- crossing midline
they could struggle with attention, focus, and overall engagement in school.
They need to be able to manage themselves in their academic environment so as to be able to learn and grow in their development. Some gross motor movement is all about mindfulness or developing self control.
Gross Motor Coordination involves both conscious use of motor actions and automatic use of motor actions.
Conscious Use of Motor Coordination
Conscious use of motor coordination involves learning a new skill, while focusing on performing the task or exercise, with that being their sole intent.
An example of conscious use of motor coordination is solely focusing on skipping, without adding music, following directions or any variables.
Automatic Use of Motor Coordination
Automatic use of motor coordination involves being able to move through the actions without thinking of the actual movements, resulting in higher levels of skill.
Running while listening to an iPod, moving around obstacles, and drinking from a water bottle is a good example of automatic motor coordination.
Moving from conscious to automatic motor coordination is the end goal. Children must be able to balance and coordinate their bodies automatically, not think about the movements or actions.
This frees up their attention to focus and process necessary academic information, such as listening to the teacher and learning higher level concepts and skills within the classroom.
gross motor coordination activities
One of the very first gross motor tasks that a young child completes is rolling, lifting up off the floor in the superman pose, and the different types of crawling.
These skills transfer to more and more coordinated motor tasks with development and play experience.
Check out this Gross Motor Activities Book about Core Strengthening with Music and Movement.
Development occurs proximal to distal, which is essentially from the core to the extremities. First, a child must have adequate core strength and stability in order to fully engage in gross and fine motor skill development.
You can find core strength activities on the OT Toolbox website.
basic core strengthening activities:
- pulling self on a scooter board
- donkey kicks
- crab walks
- yoga poses
- wheelbarrow walking
- therapy band exercises
gross motor coordination Home Exercise program
At-home exercise programs are important to engage the family in their child’s therapy program. At-home gross motor coordination activities provide the family with some easy and fun ways to work as a family while developing important skills.
A daily routine is most effective, however, the family can work on a weekly routine if that is all the time they have (every little bit counts).
Hopefully, when the family sees the difficulties their child has in doing some of these gross motor coordination activities, and understand the impact it has on their academic learning and overall school success, they will invest more time into their program.
- Follow the Leader: Think about sprinkling in some old movements with new ones to help the child feel successful, but also encourage them to participate in the harder or more difficult movements. Ideas include: clapping, marching, arm circles, twirling, side to side jumping, crawling, sidekicks, hopping, stair climbing with hands and feet, and body swaying.
- Obstacle course – Think about keeping it simple at first with just 2-3 obstacles and then add additional obstacles as they improve their skills. Ideas include: jumping over pillows, walking around multiple chairs or bar stools, crepe paper laser maze in the hallway or between chairs, tunnels created with tables and chairs, or even pool noodles in the hallway!
- Dance moves – Find YouTube dance move videos for the child to engage in ,or just try silly dances such as animal dancing, freeze dancing, and animal sound dancing.
- Jump rope or hoola hoop moves – Try jump roping by either continuously moving the rope overhead and jumping, or if this is not possible, try flipping rope overhead, pause behind feet, and step over in a continuous manner. If the child is not ready for jumping rope, try wiggling the rope on the ground like a snake while the child jumps over it. If jump roping is not an option, try the same idea with use of a hoola hoop!
- Ball dribbling – Use a playground or basketball to do some ball dribbling using one hand at a time and then advance to bilateral hand dribbling from left to right and right to left. You can even have them dribble with the ball by bouncing off the wall to the floor or ground. The OT Toolbox has a few more ideas to work on bilateral coordination.
- Target toss – You can use a variety of objects for this activity such a stuffed animals, bean bags, pillows, or balls. Toss them into a basket, try cornhole, toss into tape shapes on the floor, or even at a target on the wall.
- Rolling – Have the child roll themselves down a hill or an incline created with a wedge or other surface. Don’t have an incline? That’s okay, roll up in a blanket or a flat sheet!
- Twister or Twister Moves (Amazon affiliate links)– These two games are two of the best games for older kiddos to play in order to work on gross motor coordination! Kids really love them and so do the families!
- Climbing – Have the child climb up a rope ladder, stairs, or the ladder on a bunk bed. Create a coordination exercise with obstacles on the floor to crawl over such as pillows or cushions off of the sofa. Go to the neighborhood playground and use the climbing wall!
- Simon Says – This simple game can be a fun way to work on coordination skills. You can incorporate the use of left and right directionality to make it more of challenge. Print off these Simon Says commands for therapy-friendly activity cards.
- Tightrope balance beam – Place a jump rope or a strip of masking/painter’s tape on the floor to have the child walk on the line in order to remain on the tightrope – be careful and don’t fall off! Incorporate heel to toe, side stepping, squatting to pick up items, and walking backwards. A slack line across a canyon will be the ultimate goal! These indoor balance beam ideas will keep you covered for indoor activities and these outdoor balance beam ideas are great for outdoor play.
- Hopscotch – Draw a hopscotch board on the driveway or the sidewalk and play this classic game. You can even do it even on a rainy day by using tape on the floor in the home.
- Hippity Hop Balls and Pogo Jumpers (Amazon affiliate links)– Many families have one of these at home, and they are great to work on overall gross motor coordination. Hop around the house or create a path to have the child hop on.
- Pillow jumping – Create a path around the room with pillows or stuffed animals on the floor and have the child jump over them with two feet or if they are ready for an advanced move, on one foot! If you are in someone else’s home, make sure the parents are ok with their child jumping on pillows or furniture first.
- Big shoe walking – Allow the child to walk around the house in shoes that are too large for them. Have them try slippers, boots, sneakers, and sandals. It’s super fun and highly motivating! While not the safest option, children love walking around in high heels!
- Crawling – Simply crawl on all fours to maneuver around the room by crawling around, over, or under furniture. It can be the fun way to work on coordination exercise.
- Ball rolling on a tape maze – Create a maze on the floor and have the child work on rolling a ball on top of maze lines, either by using their hands and crawling or standing and using their feet.
- Ball rolling on a wall – Have the child work on rolling a ball up and down the wall with their feet, while lying supine, or roll the ball on a tape maze using their hands. Create the maze in either a horizontal or vertical fashion.
- Skateboard – No, this isn’t standing and riding, as this is most likely a dangerous coordination exercise for the child who is challenged with gross motor coordination. However, have you thought about having them sit or lie on the board to use it like a scooter board? It can potentially be a good tool for coordination.
Need a free printable handout for fun gross motor activity ideas? Grab it here! This printable set contains an equipment list and activity ideas specifically for the home.
Gros Motor Intervention Ideas
Intervention ideas for a therapy session can include many of the gross motor coordination activities above that are easy to do without much equipment.
Other ideas can include the use of therapy balls, scooter boards, swings, a trampoline, bucket stilts, and other various equipment. If you don’t have the room for these items, or access to them where you are providing services, there are other ways to work on gross motor coordination too.
Take a look at some of these fun ideas to build motor coordination:
- Hand games – Any type of hand game is the perfect tool to work on motor coordination for kids. Classic ‘Give me 5’, hand stacking, and slap hands are great for bilateral coordination of the upper extremities. Here are some easy hand games, or finger play songs that you might want to try.
- Clapping activities – Use of symmetrical and asymmetrical hand movements can easily be upgraded and downgraded based on the child’s skill level. Try some of the ideas found in Why You Should Teach Your Kids Clapping Games.
- Balloon volley – Have child do balloon volley with a partner in sitting, standing, or even kneeling. This is a super fun way to engage in coordination and you can do partner games easily during therapy. Don’t have a partner? That’s okay, have them try to do it with use of frisbee or their own hands. Add in a baton held horizontally and you’ve got another game!
- Partner yoga poses– This is a great gross motor coordination task for a small group or for partners!
- Rapper Snappers or Pop Tubes (Amazon affiliate link)– Have the child pull these apart and push them back together. This is not as easy at it looks. It makes a great motivator as the sound can be quite rewarding. Don’t do it in a library or a quiet hallway, as it can be quite loud. Don’t ask how I know this.
- Crab walk soccer – Have the child learn crab walking first. When they are ready for a little extra challenge, have them work on kicking a ball while in the crab walk position. They can play with a partner or simply kick the ball to a target.
- Suspended ball hit – Suspend a ball or balloon from the ceiling or a swing suspension system and have them either stand while holding a baton horizontally to strike a ball/balloon back and forth to themselves. If your student can not stand for this activity, they can sit and do the same. Need an extra challenge? Tall kneeling is a good position!
- Mirror image – Play mirror imaging by having the child copy the moves that you do like looking in a mirror.
- Zoom Ball – Have the child work on building coordinated arm movements to pull the handles of the ball on a string and send the ball to their partner. Do it while standing, sitting, and kneeling. You can even try it with your arms behind your back! Use these zoom ball games to get started.
- Laundry basket pulley – Have child sit or stand to pull a rope attached to a weighted laundry basket or box and have them pull the rope hand-over-hand towards themselves to bring the basket/box to themselves.
- Resistive Band or Handee Band exercises – The use of resistive bands is a simple way to work on coordination. Using fun exercise cards can keep them focused and engaged by design. The Handee Band program is designed for younger kiddos, as the cards are designed with fun active characters.
- Heavy Work Movements– Actions that incorporate the proprioceptive sense and vestibular sense offer movement with sensory benefits. These Heavy Work Activity cards are perfect for all learners.
- Hokey Pokey – An easy, classic game that children enjoy and can be played as a small group or individually during therapy. You can easily incorporate directionality with this game too!
- Playground equipment – Head out to the playground at a school and voila! Tt’s gross motor coordination opportunities galore! Explore swinging, sliding, rocking, and climbing.
- Animal walks and other types of movement patterns – Have the child work on some of these fun animal walks as they are one of the best ways to have children work on coordination skills during therapy sessions.
- Themed Exercises- Other thematic exercises are a super fun way to have children work on the coordination of upper and lower body movements. If you want a print and go resource that utilizes the alphabet, then grab this free printable resource from The OT Toolbox, Alphabet Exercises for Kids.
- Rhythm games – Use songs and poems to help a child perform hand or body rhythmic patterns that work on coordination while utilizing an auditory assist. YouTube videos can be a good tool for this activity.
- Gross motor coordination exercises – These are basic exercises that address overall body coordination while using upper and lower extremities in a coordinated manner: windmills, jumping jacks, standing cross crawls, supine cross crunches, and toe touches. The OT Toolbox has you covered with Jungle Animal Heavy Work Coordination Exercises.
gross motor coordination Therapy Equipment Ideas
If you need activity ideas to use equipment during therapy sessions, here is a list of ideas that utilize the some of the most common tools used during clinic practice or school settings. If you want an overall big picture of gross motor toys in therapy, read this Gross Motor Toys article.
- Trampoline – Use of the trampoline for jumping is a great form of coordination. Want to engage the upper body more? Try tossing and catching a ball while jumping to further work on coordination skills with use of a trampoline.
2. Scooter board – The scooter board can be used in a variety of ways to address coordination skills.
- Lying supine and pushing off of the wall with the feet
- Lying prone and pulling self across the floor
- Pulling self while seated using a hand-over-hand pattern with use of a rope anchored by therapist or a secure hook
- Driving the scooter board by kneeling and pushing the board to targets on the floor
- Try this fun deck set (Amazon affiliate link) for scooter boards which provides many activity ideas that focus on coordination.
3. Therapy ball – A therapy ball is another equipment tool that can be utilized in a variety of ways to address coordination skills.
- Lying supine and having child pull themselves to sitting with support from an adult
- Lying prone while walking back and forth on their arms and hands – maybe even doing an activity too
- Performing therapy ball slaloms with use of cones and a baton
- Try this fun deck set (Amazon affiliate link) for therapy balls which provides multiple ideas that focus on strength and coordination.
4. Therapy platform swing – A therapy swing provides ample use of coordination while engaging in fun activities to build coordination.
- While seated crisscross in the middle, have the child work on batting a balloon or catching a ball.
- While seated crisscross in the middle, have the child use a baton to reach and ‘catch’ loops or bead necklaces.
- While lying prone, have child work on creating ice cream sundaes.
- While lying prone, have the child pick up and toss bean bags at a target.
5. Bucket Stilts (Amazon affiliate link)– These are fun way to work on coordination skills and kids are always interested in how they work and often ask if they can try them. Yes, you can! Just the design and purpose of this toy is what builds coordination. So, really no explanation is needed.
6. Safety cones – These are really inexpensive and can be found at the dollar store. All you need are a few of them to either place on the floor or elevate them on inner tubes like safety cone toe taps to address coordination.
7. Wobble Balance Board – An effective equipment tool to address coordination skills simply by the use of it. Use it inverted or not!
8. Shark Run – An easy way to work on coordination skills either in the therapy session or at home. Have the child start by putting two mats or pillows in front of each other and then while standing on the farthest one, bend and reach back to pick up the other pillow or mat, move it to the front and step on it next, then repeat. This creates a path to walk across the room and try to stay out of the water and avoid the sharks!
A Final Note on Gross Motor Coordination
While all of these gross motor coordination activity ideas are great, don’t forget there are other ways to have the child build their skills. They can engage in community activities such as karate, gymnastics, swimming, dance, yoga, ballet or organized sports. While your child says they would rather sit in front of their electronics, these gross motor coordination activities can be just as fun.
Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!