Physical development

Gross motor skills

Learn more about gross motor skills as part of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) including advice from experts and suggested activities.

Why gross motor skills are important

Gross motor skills are the skills that children develop using their whole body. You can see this from a baby’s earliest efforts to move and travel, to young children coordinating whole body movements. By using their whole bodies children become increasingly confident, agile and flexible.

All children need to be confident in their gross motor skills and movements. For some children this confidence will come in smaller steps and take longer to achieve. Be patient, giving them time and space, and encouraging words. Take expert advice for children with physical and mobility additional needs. This may increase childrens’ development of muscular strength, ability to take well intentioned, safe risks and become increasingly well-coordinated.

Gross motor skills affect wellbeing and give children opportunities to socialise in play. Confidence and coordination in gross motor skills are essential for children in developing their fine motor skills.

Video

In this video, an early years expert explains the importance of gross motor skills in the early years foundation stage framework. There are also some tips on how to support children in this area.

What the early years foundation stage (EYFS) framework says

Gross motor skills provide the foundation for developing healthy bodies and social and emotional well-being.

Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage, page 9.

What this means in practice

Children need access to indoor and outdoor environments that help develop their gross motor skills, with you to guide and support them, every day. Outdoors is where children have the freedom to be as physical as they can be.

Walking to local green spaces can help build children’s stamina. If babies and children have to be pushed to a destination, on arrival, give them opportunities to move around on the woodland floor, the grassy area in the park or the pebbly beach.

When considering children’s gross motor skills think of crawling, walking, running, jumping, hopping, skipping, creeping and slithering, spinning, turning, twisting, pushing and pulling. Babies need to have daily ‘tummy time’ to develop their muscles for sitting and crawling.

Older children engage in weight bearing skills and develop upper arm strength, mobility, control and balance. This could be by hanging from climbing equipment or lifting and manipulating large, heavy and awkward objects.

You should notice what children are doing physically and make sure that what they can use indoors and outdoors is challenging enough. You need to know about each child’s physical development.

Children need to take safe risks. However, most children will self-regulate and not attempt movements that they are not confident with.

Consider what equipment you have in your setting that support gross motor skills such as den making materials. Try to have a variety of objects children can lift, transport and organise on their own.

Try to help children to be physically active for at least 3 hours each day.

Suggested activities

Moving house

You’ll need:

  • ‘home’ toys like plates and cups
  • children’s furniture that is safe to move like plastic chairs
  • the furniture and resources in the home area
  • cardboard boxes and bubble wrap
  • sticky tape and masking tape
  • clipboards and pens
  • an improvised removal van

‘Moving House’ play supports the development of muscular strength, core strength, whole body coordination and the ability to carry objects safely.

Many children have moved from one home to another. Naturally, they want to roleplay this experience. Children may start ‘moving house’ themselves, which you can support. Or you may want to start the play.

Children will know where they want to move to. Prompt discussion about the type of home the children are moving from and to, for example a flat or a house? What kind of house?

Suggest that they check that they have a safe route and space to set up. They may need to discuss it with other children and adults.

Start with wrapping things up and putting them in boxes. The children will physically pick up and move the boxes and furniture, either to the new home or into the ‘removal van’. They’ll need support to ensure they do this safely, but they will want to get it right.

Have clipboards for making lists and checking that all possessions have arrived safely at the new house. These can be mark making or pictures.

How this activity links to the other areas of learning

Wrapping the smaller objects will help their fine motor skills. Making lists will support literacy. Talking about people living in different types of accommodation links with understanding the world. Roleplaying a significant life event will help them to handle their personal, social and emotional development during a real move.

Obstacle courses

You’ll need some items from this list of suggestions:

  • crates
  • wooden planks
  • bread trays
  • tunnels
  • stepping stones (wood off-cuts)
  • hoops
  • cones
  • rockers
  • trampoline
  • blankets
  • slide
  • tyres
  • ladders

You can also include fixed climbing equipment, outdoor furniture, paths and natural features, such as tree stumps or fallen branches.

You may observe children finding their own obstacle course with what is already there, travelling in lines, going over, going under and going through. Children may repeat the route, challenging themselves and others.

Get them to help you build a course. They’ll try out different parts of the course as it is being built, testing that it works.

Once the obstacle course is constructed children will revisit it. Each time they will become increasingly skilful in negotiating the different spaces, pieces of equipment and the length of the course. They will also speed up and travel faster.

Some parts will feel like more of a risk than others and the children will enjoy this element of challenging themselves.

How this activity links to the other areas of learning

Children will constantly communicate, non-verbally and verbally as they negotiate the course. They’ll instruct each other, expressing their emotions, and encouraging each other (communication and language). There are opportunities for you and the children to use mathematical language, words to describe quantity, size, length, speed, as well as to make comparisons (mathematics).

Other activities

Physical activity guidelines for children under 5 years from the NHS.

Learning through landscapes has ideas for outdoors activities.

What other nurseries and childminders are doing

“Since Covid I have changed my provision so that everything is outside. It is working very well indeed. The children love it and they’re thriving in every way.”

Julie, Childminder, Ilkley West Yorkshire.

“The children spend a lot of time being adventurous outside. Not everyone has been confident with this, but now we have regular online team meetings and practitioner confidence has blossomed.”

Mandy, Naturally Learning, Truro.

“Everyone comes on our walks. One destination is a particular hill in the park. Walking up the hill is a struggle for young children to start with but over time we see them running up.”

Julie, Childminder, Ilkley West Yorkshire.

Summary

  • Gross motor skills are all the skills that children develop using their whole body.
  • Children’s development of gross motor skills affects their learning and development.
  • Children need access to outdoor areas every day.
  • Children need to take safe risks and will usually not attempt movements that they’re not confident with.
  • Try to help children to be physically active for at least 3 hours each day.

Next steps

  • Involve parents and carers by sharing the children’s achievements in developing gross motor skills with them.
  • Observe what the children are doing and notice movements that are more advanced, such as, twisting, slithering.
  • Consider how your routine and resources enable children to be physically active.
  • Review your curriculum to ensure you cover the requirements in the EYFS for this area of learning.