Why we place so much importance on Gross Motor Skills at Monkey Puzzle West Norwood
What are Gross Motor Skills?
Between the ages of three and six children develop fundamental movement skills (Gross motor and fine motor) which are the building blocks that enable them to progress and develop a full range of physical and emotional skills. However, recent studies have found that more and more children appear to be entering nurseries and schools with under developed gross motor skills, which means they do not have then have a solid foundation to build fine motor skills, which they need to be able to hold a pencil, for instance.
There may be many reasons for this; for example, more screen and TV time, more time spent sitting down as well as the lack of movement and physical activity in everyday play. As the Owner and Director at Monkey Puzzle West Norwood, I have spent the last 13 years working as a chartered physiotherapist treating children and adults with Musculo-skeletal injuries. I specialised in analysis, rehab and prevention of movement dysfunction and core control. I decided to set up the Nursery after observing more and more children coming to see me with postural related issues and having under developed gross motor skills and over compensated fine motor skills.
Giving your child the best foundation before Primary School
After speaking to many primary school teachers and Head Teachers of local private schools, I discovered that many were observing more and more children with under developed gross motor skills starting at their schools. Trying to teach core control and good posture to children at this stage is almost too late, as they are having to spend a lot of time correcting the habits they have already developed or attempting to re teach these same skills, or in some cases, referring them to therapists. Instead, I realised that establishing the foundation in early years was necessary.
Therefore, I have set up the Nursery with the intention of placing a large emphasis on establishing good gross motor skills through purposeful play activities, thus encouraging body awareness and providing the opportunity for children to develop physical literacy alongside their literacy and numeracy skills, and to prepare them for the move to school.
Why are Gross Motor Skills important?
For a young developing child, the ability to move their body and explore their environment leads to their increased knowledge and understanding about the world and how they fit into it. It also helps them to develop and formulate concepts and ideas which later are shown through drawing and writing. Gross motor skills involve the large muscles of the body that enable such functions as maintaining balance, walking, climbing, jumping, pushing, pulling and ball skills. They are the building blocks for the development of fine motor skills. Gross motor skills begin to develop right from birth and keep developing at a rapid pace right up until we are around the ages of 6 and 7.
We need these skills so that we can move confidently and respond to speed and change of direction. They allow us to control our body movements whilst balancing, running, jumping or throwing and allow us to co-ordinate our arms and legs for activities such as riding a bike or climbing. They also support our language and the development of our social skills and generally help with our muscle development, to increase our strength, stamina and endurance.
What is needed to develop Gross Motor skills?
- Strength and control of the muscles in the body and limbs.
- The ability to co-ordinate the both sides of the body with one another as well as co-ordinate the top and bottom halves of the body.
- Body, space and directional awareness.
- The ability to react to and time movements.
- Muscle-memory and re-call (to be able to remember the movements our muscles have made and recall them when we need to use the same movements again).
- Motivation and curiosity.
What does Monkey Puzzle do to develop Gross Motor Skills?
We believe that the best way to help children develop their gross motor skills is through plenty of active play. We give them lots of time, space, and opportunities to use their muscles. We have lots of movement classes like yoga, Pilates, ribbon writing and climbing on the climbing wall, but we also focus on free purposeful play, which is also as effective.
We are experts within our field and offer a unique Nursery school experience. As the only Nursery in the area with a qualified chartered physiotherapist and qualified preschool teacher on our staff, we are totally unique in that we able to provide expert guidance and ensure that the development of gross motor skills is at the forefront of everything we do at the Nursery, incorporated with the EYFS and STEM learning that is part of the curriculum.
We have ensured that every piece of equipment and furniture within the Nursery is optimised to encourage the development of gross motor skills, such as our paddle boards or the Hokki stools which we import from Germany. We bought these because children need to fidget and move all the time. It is what makes them so much more dynamic than us and helps them to process information. Hokki stools are designed to be slightly unstable so that children cannot slump and have to naturally sit upright. This puts them in the optimum position to activate their core muscles which in turn activates their body and mind.
We Take it outside. The outdoors is where children want to be. The equipment we have in the garden such as the tunnel, the mounds and the slide and beams have been specifically picked to facilitate the development of gross motor skills. That is why we provide open access to the garden every day and encourage the children to complete a lot of their daily activities outside. The garden also reflects the areas of learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage and allows problem solving on a grander scale.
Children learn by example, so we let them see us walking, running cycling, building, dancing, climbing and even do regular Yoga and Pilates with them. During reading time, we share books about people who lead active lives so that the children become aware of and see other people (adults and children) being active.
We include physical activities in all of our daily routines and encourage movement even when we are doing Arts and Crafts.
Purposeful Movement is at the core of everything we do at Monkey Puzzle West Norwood. We understand and recognise that children are active learners. So, in our daily schedule we incorporate two specific physical activities per day, were we blend the specific areas of the EYFS -maths, literacy, understanding the world or art and design with physical play. For example, we might for example get the children to roll ball onto numbers or letters, or use the paddle board to pull themselves to specific letters or numbers.
Come and visit our Nursery
If you would like to come and see how we incorporate movement into our everyday activities please come and visit us.
Gross Motor Skills Activities you can do at home
If you would like to work on some gross motor activities at home with your children, we have put together a few of our favourite activities:
1. Go to the Seaside: Talk to the children about the seaside and what they might find. Make up movements or physical skills around this theme. Link with stories the children may have read. Try being a:
- Star fish – stand with legs and arms out wide
- Shell – curl up small
- Crab – move sideways
- Sea horse – gallop around the space
- Shark – run
- Whale – move slowly
- Dolphin – run and jump
What else can We Do?
- Link other movement rhymes such as ‘Row, Row, Row the Boat and Five Little Fishes Swimming on the Shore.
- Build some ‘sand castles’ but make them out of big cardboard boxes.
- Play the ice cream cone game – place a tennis ball in the rim of a paper cup. The children have to carry the ‘ice cream cone’ from one end of the space to the other without dropping it. Add some obstacles to make it harder.
- Place some large cushions on the floor and go for a walk over the ‘sand dunes’.
2. Blow Bubbles: The adults blow bubbles (the children can do them as well). As the bubbles float, the children can either ‘pop’ them by poking them with their fingers, ‘catch them’ by clapping the bubbles between their hands or stamp/jump on them when they hit the ground.
What else can We Do?
- Make other bubbles – through water play e.g. soap flakes.
- Jump on some bubble wrap paper to pop the bubbles.
- Invite the children to pretend to be bubbles and float around the space. Twirl gently and float to the ground.
- Play catch games using other things that float e.g. balloons, feathers and leaves.
Bouncy Bubble Recipe
A fun solution that you can bounce off your clothes. What you need:
- 2 pkts unflavoured powdered gelatine
- 1L hot water (just boiled)
- 50 to 70 ml glycerine
- 2 teaspoons of caster sugar
- 50ml washing-up liquid
Dissolve the gelatine in the hot water and then add the washing-up liquid and glycerine. Note: You will need to reheat this mixture whenever you use it, as it will gel. Two to three minutes in a microwave should do it but keep an eye on it the first time.
3. Ribbon Writing: Cut long strips of crepe paper and tape several together to make some streamers. You will need two each (one in each hand). Using music with different tempos, invite the children to make patterns and shapes in the air with their streamers.
What else can We Do?
Incorporate all the different moves to make up letter formation – up, down, diagonal, circle, horizontal, bumps and squiggles, zig-zag.
- Explore what else can be used to make the movements e.g. pom-poms, scarves.
- Explore different music to match the shape e.g. marching music for up/down shapes – make a letter/shape dance.
- Wave some flags and pretend to be in a marching band.