Playing outside helps children burn off steam. But all that running and jumping and climbing also holds another hidden benefit – it helps children work on gross-motor skills. Unlike fine-motor skills, which work the small muscles of the hands, gross-motor skills work the large muscles. All that child’s play burns calories, but it also helps kids develop strong bones and muscles, and “feeds” the brain with glucose, oxygen, and water.

More than that, time on the playground or in the backyard gives children the confidence and the competence to take part in physical activity for a lifetime! Here are some games that encourage them to practice in developmentally appropriate ways:

  • In and Around. There’s nothing like an obstacle course to provide practice with any number of skills, including crawling, creeping, walking, and jumping. Additionally, an obstacle course will offer your child valuable experience with prepositions such as over, under, around, and through. Set up a course using large empty boxes, chairs, or other pieces of furniture, jump ropes, and small items to move around. Then lead your child through the maze!
  • Chasing Bubbles. Want to give your child a reason to run and jump? Take her outside and invite her to catch the bubbles you blow!
  • Follow the Leader. Even if it’s just you and your child, the game is plenty of fun. And it’s a great opportunity to practice motor skills! Lead the way around the living room or backyard, performing as many different locomotor (traveling) skills as you know and let your child replicate them.
  • Traffic Lights. For this game you’ll need three large pieces of paper or cardboard – one red, one green, and one yellow. When you hold up the green paper, the children walk. When you hold up the yellow, they walk in place. At the sight of the red, they stop and wait. Start with walking until they get the hang of it. Then play it with any other locomotor skills they can perform.
  • In and Out. Place a plastic hoop on the floor or ground. Then invite your child to jump in and out of the hoop, all the way around. When he’s able to hop (one-footed), invite him to hop in and out.
  • Tag With a Twist. A game of tag is a great way to get children to practice both running and dodging. To be sure the latter skill is involved, gradually reduce the available area in which the game is played!