In this article, you will read about gross motor skills and get hands on activities to support toddlers’s development, and also help him learn while playing.
What are motor skills?
A motor skill is an action that involves using your muscles. “Motor development is often broadly divided into gross motor and fine motor skills.
Gross motor skills refer to skills involving large muscle movements, such as independent sitting, crawling, walking, or running.
Fine motor skills involve the use of smaller muscles, such as grasping, object manipulation, or drawing.” (Sandy I. Gonzalez, Veronica Alvarez, Eliza L. Nelson )
Therefore, everything that involves larger movements represents gross motor skills: entire body, arms, legs, or feet. Gross motor skills must be exercised from an early age as they are very important in daily life activities such as feeding, dressing, swimming, tool use etc.
Smaller actions are characterized as fine motor skills: using fingers for picking, grabbing, pinching, using toes in the water, sand, on materials, using lips and tongue for tasting and feeling.
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Activities to develop gross motor skills in toddlers
1. Fly a kite – not only do children get the chance to explore the outdoor, but they also engage with an adult for demonstration and help, they get to walk or run around, while at the same time using their hands to hold on to the kite.
This is a perfect activity as it engages so many muscles and senses, not to mention that it is a sensory experience that takes place in nature thus enhancing the experience.
2.Obstacle course – whether inside or outside, this is a great activity for toddlers. Obstacles should not be too complicated, simply build on the skills your little one has acquired so far, be it crawling, jumping over, leaning, fine motor skills such as grabbing, pinching.
Place a great reward at the finish line for greater motivation. My son loves fruit so I used an orange, so anything goes.
3.Balls on a blanket – this activity can be done indoors or out. You will need a baby blanket and some softballs or toys to place in the middle of the blanket. Grab two ends of the blanket and tell your toddler to do the same. Shake the blanket as hard as you can to make the toys bounce off. Continue until all toys are on the ground.
4. Balloon on the ceiling – while playing with balloons, my toddler discovered that after he rubbed a balloon on the carpet, he could stick it on the door. Static electricity. But we made it more fun.
We stuck the balloons to the ceiling and my husband held our son up to reach them. He tried desperately to knock them down. Good workout before bed!
5. Action songs – cannot think of a better example of gross motor skill activities for 2 year-olds. It involves so much movement and fun! I love action songs because my son actively listens so he can perform the action, but he also learns a lot as English is not our first language.
Not to mention that he learns to follow instructions. So there are many benefits to using action songs.. S-T-O-P Stop from Patty Shukla is on repeat in our house. To top it all, some action songs actually taught my son how to spell.
6. Paper airplanes – this is a game that I enjoyed greatly as a child. My son? Not so much. But we still play with paper airplanes because he enjoys running after them. It is also fun to make one because we do it together.
He draws and adds stickers on the paper, I make it and we both chase them. He is also learning how to throw one in the air, which is another good gross motor skill activity for 2 year-olds, apart from chasing them of course.
7. Dress up – we experimented with many costumes so far. My son wanted to be a pirate, a knight, and a firefighter so far. God only knows what to expect next! For most of the costumes, I make the main elements: the eye-patch, the sword, the knight’s helmet, a belt for the policeman.
So, you don’t need to break the bank to please your little one. The beauty of dress up games is that children get to experiment fine and gross motor skills, but also pretend play. Putting on hats/helmets/eye-patches/vests/boots, holding and using a sword etc, are all excellent activities for 2 year-olds to exercise fine and gross motor skills.
8. Pouring from one bowl to another – it’s no secret that children love playing with water. So, because I refuse to give my son several baths during the day, I just give him warm/cold water(depending on the season) in a large bowl and several smaller bowls, maybe even a scoop and let him play by himself for 20 minutes-ish (it’s more like 10, but I’ll take it, it’s better than nothing).
He does spill most of it, but even so, he repeatedly practices his gross motor skills by lifting the bowl of water and maneuvering it to pour and scoop.
9. Set the table – because we are Montessori fans, I taught my child to brush his teeth independently, bring clothes from his wardrobe when he wanted to change, use the hoover, the broom, and the dustpan and many other life skills. He is almost three and he started to get very good at some of them.
One of the skills we started practicing when he was around 28 months was setting the table. We eat in the living room and he must run to the kitchen, take what I give him and slowly walk with it to the table, set it on the table and quickly come back. Great gross motor skills practice!
10. Whack the bunny – I think that whack the bunny is sort of a bad game, but my son saw someone play it and he laughed a lot. So I made one for him. It is one of the activities for 2 year-olds that practices hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills. Not to mention that it will come in handy when he’ll go hunting!
I simply made some holes in a shoebox, used a hammer and a finger puppet (in our case a bunny, but it can be anything you have around the house, maybe whack the sock!) Make sure the shoe box is large enough for the hammer to get inside and the finger puppet is large enough to fit on the hammer.
Give your toddler something to use to whack the bunny’s head. Surprise your toddler by coming out of the holes faster and slower.
11. Taking clothes out of the basket/bin – when he was around 2, my son discovered that he had access to his wardrobe and clothes. So, what to do with this newly found treasure? Throw it all out and play on the pile of clothes. Which was great! Because I taught him the names of clothing items with each item he gracefully tossed around the room.
He got to practice fine and gross motor skills by grabbing, pulling, throwing, climbing on the heap of clothes, and I got to teach him something! Win-win situation! Minus my constant impulse to put everything back, neatly folded, and colour sorted.
Reward Charts are a wonderful way of encouraging children to help out around the house or simply to establish a routine by adding the fun element. You can now download these 4 fantastic Reward Charts for FREE.
12. Making music on household items – we moved to England when my son was 10 months and didn’t take much of our stuff with us. We left behind some of the toys too, including a nice drum he used to bang a lot. I didn’t bother to buy another one! I thought he grew out of it!
But one day he found some chopsticks around the house and started hitting the sofa. Then he hit the doors, the carpet, and the furniture, you see where I’m going with this! To make my life easier, I decided on 3 or 4 items he could bang on and actually make some music.
So, when he wanted to play, I would lay them out for him, and he banged on those for some good minutes.I used a metal box, a plastic box, a pot, and a cardboard box. Add it on the list of great activities for 2 year-olds, it really is.
13. Dance with mum – I love dancing with my son. My husband and I choose the music and he enjoys it! He likes rock, blues, pop also. He also loves it when we dance together because I goof around and he eagerly tries to imitate me. Boy, does he practice his gross motor skills! The moves we make, you won’t believe it!
14. Drive around – I had many cardboard boxes lying around so I decided to make a cardboard car for my son. You can see how I made it here. He likes to get in it with his toys. He opens the door and closes it. Then he grabs the wheel and starts driving.
He drives his toys around and talks to them. After a while, he gets out of the car and pushes it around. So, he uses gross motor skills by pushing the car, and also when stirring the wheel. He also uses his fine motor skills to open and close the door and push the buttons I drew for him on the dashboard.
15. Toys treasure hunt – hide toys around the house and give your little one a bag/backpack/box to go and search for his treasure. He will walk around the house (run in our case), bend, crawl on the bed/sofa, sit down and stand up, all good movements to exercise gross motor skills.
Add to this the excitement of discovering something hidden and you’ve got a perfect activity for 2 year-olds and above.
16. Jump on paper – when we started learning the alphabet, we painted (I, mostly) all the letters on small squares of paper. That is a good enough activity in itself. But to practice gross motor skills, I turned it into a game to add it to my list of activities for 2 year-olds.
Once all the squares dried out, we threw them on the floor and I gave my son instructions: jump on B, jump on D. Point to the letters for him, demonstrate first.
He will want to jump around everywhere and maybe not on the letters, but that is good practice too. And as long as he hears the letters often enough, he will eventually learn them, so don’t insist on it now!
17. Use a broom and a dustpan – as mentioned, we love the Montessori approach and I try to implement it the best way I can. I have no training in the field, I just read a lot about it. We started using household items a little before my son turned two.
He wipes the furniture, uses his small hoover, and tries to use my broom and dustpan in the kitchen. It is great fun for him, especially since he sweeps all the cupboards (to be read my head explodes) and smashes the dustpan around. But now he is almost three and can properly use them both.
He exercises his gross motor skills by bending, grabbing, and holding the broom, squatting to look under/reach under the furniture, so a lot of practice for his motor development.
These activities worked for my 2-year-old, but are not a guarantee that they work for this age with all children. All children are unique and therefore you are the one to decide which activities best suit your child.
There are many types of activities for 2 year-olds you can use to practice motor skill development. From simple daily chores to fun activities such as building, playing as an instrument or flying a kite. As long as you understand what gross and fine motor skills are, you can transform any activity into a motor skill development to make sure you give your child enough muscle practice.
We share all of our ideas on our Facebook group Learning Activities for Kids.
Learning activities for kids
Do Gross and Fine Motor Skills Differentially Contribute to Language Outcomes? A Systematic Review, Sandy I. Gonzalez, Veronica Alvarez, Eliza L. Nelson
The effect of affordances in the home environment on children’s fine- and gross motor skills, Saeed Valadi, Carl Gabbard
Hi. I am Monica, an experienced ESL teacher and early years student, mother to a preschooler and passionate reader.