Gross Motor Development
Gross motor skills involve movement of the large muscles in arms, legs, and torso. Gross motor activities include walking, running, skipping, jumping, throwing, climbing and many others. It may be easiest to think of “gross motor” skills as skills most utilized in a gym class or on a playground.
Gross motor skills also include small movements of the large muscle groups. There are always a few children in every preschool or kindergarten classroom who suddenly fall out of their chair during a lesson. In each case, the child was probably shifting his weight, but inadvertently moved his leg, hip or torso muscles too much, causing him to fall out of his chair.
Preschool and kindergarten children need strong gross motor skills so they can engage in age-appropriate physical activities (such as running, climbing, and throwing) and so they can participate in classroom activities that require body control (such as walking in a crowded room or sitting still during a lesson).
In this section, I will discuss:
- What bilateral integration is and how it relates to gross motor development;
- Why bilateral integration is essential for success in reading and writing;
- Tips for accelerating your child’s gross motor skill development; and
- What gross motor skills your child will be expected to have in preschool and kindergarten.
What is Bilateral Integration?
Bilateral integration is a fancy term that refers to the ability to smoothly perform actions using both sides of the body simultaneously. Successful gross motor movements are a result of bilateral integration.
There are several stages of bilateral integration that develop in sequence:
Symmetrical Bilateral Integration. Symmetrical bilateral integration involves both sides of the body working in mirror-image unison, where the actions on one side of the body mirror the actions performed on the other side.
Reciprocal Bilateral Integration. Reciprocal bilateral integration involves moving both sides of the body at the same time in opposite motions.
Asymmetrical Bilateral Integration. Asymmetrical bilateral integration involves each side of the body acting in a different way to complete a single specific task. For example, one foot may kick a ball as the other foot plants on the ground and balances the body.
Crossing the Midline. The “midline” is the imaginary line down the center of your body from the top of your head to your toes). Crossing the midline involves instinctively reaching across your body to complete an activity.
Importance of Bilateral Integration in Reading and Writing
Successful writing depends on well developed asymmetrical bilateral integration and an ability to cross the midline. First, a child must use one hand to control the pencil and the other hand to position and stabilize the paper (asymmetrical bilateral integration). Then, a child must use one hand to write words along the entire horizontal length of the page, without switching the pencil from the left hand to the right hand at the mid-way point of the page (crossing the midline).
Without well developed asymmetrical bilateral integration or an ability to cross the midline, a child will limit his drawing to the portion of the paper closest to his writing hand since he cannot comfortably reach his hand to other areas of the paper and his non-writing hand does not instinctively readjust the paper’s position.
Successful reading depends on an ability to cross the midline. When reading, a child’s eyes must follow along the entire horizontal length of the page, before moving to the next line.
Without well developed bilateral integration, a child will likely read the first few words on a page and then pause. After thinking for a moment, he may continue to read the second half of the page. This pause is because the child was unable to instinctively cross the midline so he needed to pause and needed to deliberately move his eyes to the next word to resume reading.
Tips for Accelerating Your Child’s Gross Motor Development
Strong gross motor skills depend, in large part, on strong muscles. Muscles gain strength through repeated activity and practice. To accelerate your child’s gross motor development, focus on providing your child with opportunities to engage in focused gross motor activities such as first marching in a straight line. Once he is comfortable with that basic skill, direct him to march forwards while tapping his left knee with his right hand and his right knee with his left hand. This type of activity directly promotes bilateral asymmetrical integration and crossing the midline skill development.
Next time you are outdoors with your child, roll a large ball towards your child while he stands in place. Instruct him to kick it back without stopping it first. As he gains comfort with this activity, have him walk (and later run) towards the ball as it rolls towards him. This type of activity involves advanced asymmetrical bilateral integration as well as coordination.
Learn More About What Will Be Expected of Your Child in School
Children are expected to begin preschool with basic control over the large muscles in their body (the arms, legs and torso) but without finely tuned control over these muscles. For example, a child in preschool may be able to walk up and down the stairs, but may place two feet on each step before moving to the next step, instead of placing only one foot on each step. Also, a preschooler may be able to hold a large bin of markers but may accidentally spill it when trying to walk while holding it.
As children progress through preschool and kindergarten, teachers expect that they will gain increased control over all large muscles in their bodies and be able to execute precise movements such as skipping, hopping, climbing, carrying large objects while walking, walking up and down stairs placing only one foot on each step and sitting cross-legged for up to thirty minutes.
Learn more about the specific gross motor skills your child will be expected to have at the beginning of preschool and at the beginning of kindergarten.