When people think of occupational therapy, they probably think of fine motor and sensory processing skills. While that is often the main focus of the work we do, there is also a lot of opportunities to work on gross motor skills as well. Below, I share ten of my favorite gross motor toys, games and activity sets that make developing body strength, improving motor planning and organizational skills and improving balance and coordination fun.
Calm Mind Kit-this is one of my favorite new items to my whole gift guide this year. I have been a huge fan of Rose & Rex for years so when I heard they were developing their very own product that would work on mindfulness and mediation, I was immediately sold. This beautiful set was designed for children as young as 3 years old and can be used through the ages. Created by childhood development and wellness experts, it provides children with a variety of tools that encourage emotional development and improves their overall well-being making them more able to focus, self-regulate and to have improved confidence and self-esteem. Each kit contains three handmade toys and a set of Calm Mind Activity cards that provide instruction on how to use the toys for different meditative, movement and breathing exercises.
One of the best things about any purchase made from Rose & Rex is that for each toy you buy, toys will be given to a child in need. For example, for each Calm Mind Kit purchased, 8 toys will be given in turn.
Gel Floor Tiles-these are a big hit with all the kids at my sensory gym and I love how they can be used for a lot of different things. First things first, they are a huge motivator to get kids to jump, leap, hop and other gross motor activities. These colorful tiles are filled with gel so when they are being stepped or crawled on the gel moves all around. We have used them in a variety of ways but my favorite has been to set it up like a simplified Twister game where kids have to listen to and follow the verbal directions given to them. This is great for working on increasing motor planning and organizational skills, focus and attention and following multi-step directions. Also a motivating way to work on increasing gross-motor skills.
Wobbel Board-I had been coveting this beauty for a long time after following someone on Instagram. I've been using it at home with my daughter (because she won't let me take it to work) and it's been so fun to see how she uses it. When I purchased it, I imagined I would bring it to work and use it as a balance board with the kids. At home, it is being used not only as a balance board, but also as a prop in some of her imaginative play. The Wobbel Board is great for working on improving overall strength, trunk control, motor planning and organizational skills.
Stomp Rocket-this is one of those toys that makes my list each year and one of those things that kids love no matter how old they are. It's a simple toy that can help with the development of so many gross motor skills, especially jumping and overall strengthening. Their line has expanded over the years so be sure to check out the link. I like the Dueling Rockets set because it helps kids learn how to jump with two feet at the same time, but they are all great and keep kids entertained for hours. I am kinda excited to check out their newest product, Stomp Rocket Stunt Planes. Kids can work on building endurance (by running to collect the rockets), hand-eye coordination (trying to catch the stomp rockets as they fall down) and motor planning skills when using any of the stomp rocket sets.
Rody Horse-the physical therapists I work with recommend the Rody Horse for a lot of our younger kids (they recommend for kids 2-4 years old but depending on the size of a child, they can be used as young as 1 years old). Similar to the hippity-hop ball, kids bounce up and down on Rody. These are great for working on developing balance, coordination and motor planning skills. Also great for working on increasing core strength and trunk control.
Kick Scooter-living in NYC, parents are always looking for ways to get to places quicker. Once kids outgrow the stroller, they want a faster way to get to place from place so I always recommend a scooter. There are a lot of them out there but I personally love the children's scooters from Micro Kickboard. They are lightweight and the two wheels up front make it a bit easier for kids to maneuver. Scooters are great for working on developing bilateral coordination, motor planning, focus and attention, organizational skills and visual motor and perceptual skills. I also recommend having kids who may have sensory processing difficulties ride their scooters to school to help "wake up their bodies" before getting into the classroom.
Move Your Body Fun Deck-parents often ask me for simple activities they can do with their children at home. Super Duper has a whole series of activity cards that I highly recommend and use at the gym. In the past years, I have recommended (and still do) the Yogorilla cards. This year I thought I would switch things up a bit and find something a little different Move Your Body Fun Deck has 59 illustrated cards that help your child improve their body strength, balance, coordination, motor planning and motor organizational skills. I like this set because the activities are simple and can be done as a whole family. They are easy enough to include in a sensory diet at home or in school that won't require equipment. Some of the activities are to stand on one foot like a flamingo, do a long jump or to do a log roll.
Door Pong-I am loving this game for older kids and it is especially a great thing for kids who live in the city. It is essentially ping-pong without the table. Attach the clamp to the top of any doorway and then turn the dial to adjust the length of the string for your kid. The goal of it the game it to see how many times you can hit the ball back and forth to each other without missing. Door Pong is a fun way to improve hand-eye coordination, executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills, increase upper extremity strength and encourages cooperative play.
Handee Band-I wrote about these in depth a few months ago and feel like they definitely deserve a shout out on this years gift-guide. Parents are always looking for ways to get their kids moving or exercising at home. As kids get older, it's important that they can be more independent and take more control of their physical well-being. The Handee Band, created by a California based occupational therapist, was designed with that exact thing in mind. The Handee Band Exercise Kit comes with 1 6 pound resistance Handee Band (you can order extras if you want more for your family), a book with 15 illustrated exercises with easy to follow 5-step directions, Handee Band Spinner Board and a dry erase Handee Checklist for children to keep track of their progress. Using the Handee Band will be a fun and motivating way for children to work on building body strength and will improve bilateral coordination, motor planning and motor organization, hand-eye coordination, balance and coordination skills.
Zoom Ball-this will always be a huge favorite of mine. First of all, it's super affordable and can be used with our without another person. The second thing I like about it is that it can be used in a variety of ways to work on a bunch of different skills. The goal of the Zoom Ball is to fly the ball back and forth by opening and closing your arms. This is amazing for working on increasing upper extremity strength, bilateral coordination, motor planning, organizational skills and focus and attention. I try and throw in some kind of language aspect when using the zoom ball at work. For example, I have them list the months of the year or name a color every time they open their arms. If you don't have someone to do the zoom ball with, you can attach the second set of handles to someplace higher and the kids can shoot the ball up and it will drop down on it's own.
In addition to the aforementioned toys, there are a bunch of great family board/big body games that encourage gross motor development. Some of them are Twister, Seek-a-Boo, Sturdy Birdy: The Game of Balance, I Got This, Giant Wooden Tower Stacking Game and Crocodile Hop Floor Game.
Gross motor skills are crucial for children of all ages. Not only is it important for keeping kids physically active and healthy, it provides opportunities for building confidence and self-esteem. Additionally, research shows that encouraging free movement can give children the space to develop a more keen level of self-awareness, learn non-verbal ways of communicating with family and peers and help in developing improved body and safety awareness.
What are your favorite family or work based gross-motor games? I'm sure that my readers would love to hear about your favorites just as much as I would. I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.