Using Your Environment To Improve Your Child’s Gross Motor Skills

by | Aug 12, 2019 | Physical Therapy

It is clear that many aspects of a child’s environment influence his or her motor, cognitive and social-emotional outcomes”. “Parental responsivity, a variety of daily experiences, equipment use and the structure of the physical space are all known to influence child development” (Majnemer, Barr, 2005). I often ask parents to think about where their child spends most of his/her time. Is it in a chair? Maybe the car seat or crib with their toys close by. If your child is behind on his/her gross motor skills then it is important to look at the environment. If half the day is spent in a seat of one kind or another then gross motor skills could be delayed.  

We want their environment augmented for a play which will stimulate their desire to move.  If you are working on getting your child to pull up to stand, try placing toys on an elevated surface like a couch or low table. Crawling can be worked on by placing your baby over your leg with a fun toy just out of reach. Watch as they work to get over your leg to the toy, (don’t forget to give lots of excited praise).  Cruising around furniture is a big milestone in a baby’s first year. To help with this try placing toys along the surface of the tables and couches. 

For our older children who want to learn stairs or bike riding a backyard or playground my offer you the right environment. Playgrounds can offer children the chance to climb, jump, swing, and so much more. In the mind of a pediatric physical therapist, they see strength, bilateral coordination skills, and vestibular feedback. Our summers are hot so environments such as pools (privet or public) and indoor play parks might be a good alternative to outside parks.   

 Watch out for some negatives that are common in many households and can impact a child’s ability to reach his/her gross motor milestones. Television is a big distraction for many children and limiting their exposure to it might help. Computers, game systems, and tablets are also potential problems for children. Some children tell me that they do play, “on my Xbox every day”. This is not playing in the traditional sense and screen time should be limited. 

Sleep hygiene is so important for children of all ages. Poor sleep habits can cause cognitive, behavioral and physical problems. If your child is not getting the recommended amount of sleep, then you should see your pediatrician about how you can correct this issue.    

Role modeling can be good or bad and is often forgotten by many families. We can set up the environment with fun toys but children will often model the behaviors of their parents or family members. If the household eats poorly, stays up late and never does any activity then how can you expect that child to do it? That child who is delayed in their gross motor skills or perhaps has a disability would greatly benefit from family support in the form of role modeling.  

1) Majnemer A, Barr R: Influence of supine sleep positioning on early motor milestone acquisition. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2005, 47: 370-376. 10.1017/S0012162205000733.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s development please contact our offices in Peoria or Surprise for a free screening.

Josh Macey, PTA