I often talk to parents of preschoolers about the importance of activities that engage gross motor skills. Movement and a variety of movement is so important in the daily lives of young children. There are lots of ways to get kids using their motor skills: walking, running, climbing, and of course, DANCING! So what are gross motor skills and why do we need them?
Gross motor refers to the skills involved in movement of the large muscles and parts of the body such as our arms, legs, and trunk. We begin to develop these skills as infants while we learn to sit upright and crawl. Preschoolers need different kinds of gross motor skills: locomotor (moving from one place to another such as running and walking), non-locomotor (staying in one place such as bending and reaching), and manipulative (moving an object such as opening a door). Through dance and musical movement, all of these skills can be taught in a fun and engaging way.
One of the outcomes of encouraging gross motor development is that it benefits everyday self care skills. For example, children need control of their large muscle groups for skills such as dressing independantly, climbing in and out of a car or bed, and maintaining table posture during a family meal.
As an educator and lover of dance and music and in my experience in working with young movers, I believe the most important reason we need to give kids gross motor skills is because it also gives them confidence. Children with strong gross motor skills have confidence in their body and ability to move. These children are more likely to take safe risks and push themselves, not just physically. The willingness to take chances and approach challenges with confidence is how children learn. Confidence is happiness. When children feel good about their ability to move and control their body, they develop a love of exercise and being physically active. To keep children healthy they need to love to move and they need the endurance to develop strong bodies.
So what do children need to develop these skills? They need to move. They need to move a lot and in a lot of ways and they need to have fun while they do it!