Gross Motor Activities for Preschoolers

Active play helps your little one develop large motor skills.

Gross motor activities for preschoolers - little girl dancing
Emma Innocenti / Stone / Getty Images

Little kids need to spend a lot of time (hours every day!) on gross motor skills activities. For preschoolers, active play that uses the large muscles in their legs, arms, and trunk is important for good health and for physical development. Learning to harness the power of those muscles to run, jump, throw, catch, and kick is key to the healthy growth of their bodies and brains.

But it's also fun!

Gross Motor Activities: Indoors

Muscle-moving play doesn't have to take up a ton of room. Given just a little floor space, your child can still enjoy skill-building activities inside. Try:

  • Dancing, either freestyle or through songs with movements, such as "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"; "I'm a Little Teapot"; "The Wheels on the Bus"; or "Popcorn": I'm a piece of popcorn, put me in a pan/Shake me, shake me, as fast as you can (child shimmies, shakes, and jumps)/And I ... will ... (child crouches down low) ... POP!" (child jumps as high as he can).
  • Dance and movement classes, like pre-ballet or tumbling, can be fun, but they aren't necessary for motor-skills development. It's more important that kids simply have time and opportunity to move their bodies, so don't worry if these classes don't work for your child or you.
  • Playing pretend: Kids boost motor skills when they use their bodies to become waddling ducks, stiff-legged robots, galloping horses, soaring planes—whatever their imagination comes up with!
  • Pulling or pushing wagons, large trucks, doll strollers, or shopping carts, maybe as part of a dramatic play.
  • Building and navigating obstacle courses with furniture, pillows, boxes, and blankets.
  • Large-scale arts and crafts activities.
  • Jumping on a mini trampoline, or hopping from place to place on the floor (set up targets with masking tape or cardboard).

    Gross Motor Activities: Outdoors

    Of course, outside, kids have lots of room to really challenge their muscles and play hard. They will enjoy:

    • Walking around the neighborhood or park. For variety, add in marching, jogging, skipping, hopping, or even musical instruments to form a parade. As you walk, tell stories, look for colors, count, or play games
    • More obstacle courses, with rocks, logs, or playground equipment.
    • Swimming and other water play.
    • Balancing: Have your child walk on a low beam or plank at the playground or a homemade balance beam.
    • Riding tricycles, scooters, and other ride-on toys
    • Throwing, catching, kicking, and rolling large, lightweight, soft balls.
    • Swinging, sliding, and climbing at a playground

    Gross Motor Skills Games

    Some of these work best outside, but others work equally well indoors or out. Motivate some major movement with games such as:

    • Tag or other classic games such as Follow the Leader, Mother May I, or Simon Says. Avoid or modify games that force kids to sit still or to be eliminated from play, such as Duck Duck Goose or musical chairs.
    • Hit the target: Use hula hoops or chalk to designate targets on the ground, then have kids aim bean bags or balls (or even snowballs). 
    • Paper plate skates: Use paper plates to glide along on a carpet. Try to imitate speed skaters, hockey players, or figure skaters.
    • Jump the brook: Lay out two jump ropes, or draw two chalk lines, to represent the brook and have kids try to jump over it. Try making it wider in some spots and narrower in others for a few levels of challenge.
    • Soccer: Instead of playing a real game, just let kids enjoy kicking the ball and aiming it toward a goal (if you have one) or a large cardboard box or laundry basket turned on its side. Or try these easy indoor version that uses crumpled paper instead of balls.

      Fine Motor Skills for Preschoolers

      Kids this age are also working on fine motor skills. Although those develop a bit later, they are crucial for important tasks like holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, using silverware to eat, and so on. The following activities, and others like them, help children strengthen and learn to use the small muscles in their fingers and hands.

      • Sand play: Pouring, scooping, sifting, building
      • Puppet shows
      • Sidewalk chalk or any art project, like finger painting or playing with clay
      • Finger plays (songs such as "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" that have accompanying hand movements)
      • Cooking—includes pouring, shaking, sprinkling, kneading, tearing, cutting with butter knife
      • Lacing cards or stringing beads
      • Coloring and tracing with crayons, pencils, or markers
      • Cutting with safety scissors
      • Manipulative toys such as blocks, puzzles, or dolls with clothes to take on and off

      Provide your preschooler with plenty of time to work her muscles, big and small. They all have to work together to help her succeed!