Effective Practice Guides

Gross Motor: Do

Try these practices with infants and toddlers1 and preschool-aged children.2 Find out how home visitors can put these practices to work with families.

Infants and Toddlers

  • Provide infants with plenty of time and freedom to move, like placing a young infant on his back on a flat surface. Describe to the baby what he sees and does with his body (e.g., "See how your legs move up and down?").
  • Minimize the amount of time children spend in equipment such as car seats, bouncers, baby swings, and other equipment that restrict infants' movements.
  • Provide frequent opportunities for "tummy time" for nonmobile infants. Talk to infants about what you see them do with their heads, arms, torsos, and legs. Provide interesting toys and materials for infants to look at and reach for while they are on their tummy.
  • Provide safe, sturdy equipment children can use without assistance (e.g., small stools or chairs, foam furniture covered in vinyl, low steps covered with carpet) and encourage self-directed movement. For example, rather than lifting a child and putting her in a small chair, wait while the child gets into it on her own. Comment on what you see the child do and offer positive encouragement.
  • Provide a variety of toys and materials that help children develop their gross motor skills (e.g., push and pull toys, balls of various sizes, riding toys, large, sturdy cardboard boxes or plastic bins that children can climb in and out of). Comment on what you see the child doing and offer positive encouragement.
  • Be attentive and emotionally and physically available as children move away to explore and return to you.
  • Establish times to play music and participate in games such as "Hokey Pokey" or "Ring Around the Rosie."
  • Offer plenty of opportunities for movement and large motor play, indoors and outdoors, in safe but challenging spaces where children can move. For example:
    • Infants who are not yet walking need space that is protected from foot traffic of older children, with differing levels to explore, such as small ramp or a few steps.
    • Crawling babies need lots of room to move and floors that are free of small objects to mouth and that could be swallowed.
    • Toddlers need lots of space for running, jumping, throwing, and using riding toys.


  • Provide direct guidance on how to move (e.g., "Step with this foot, Mary," while touching her foot) or provide a more open-ended challenge:
    • How many ways can we move our feet to toss this bean bag to the circle?
    • Show me two ways to kick!
    • How can we throw from a sitting position?
  • Provide a variety of balancing challenges that allow children to hold still in postures; move their arm, leg, or head while maintaining balance; continuously move while balancing; and make big changes in body positions.
    • For example, offer games such as "Freeze," "Simon Says," and hopscotch; dancing to different types of music; movement activities (e.g., pretend to be a spinning top or jumping frog); and balancing activities such as walking on tip toe, a line on the floor, or a balance beam; and standing and balancing on a sturdy box or large stone.
  • Provide space and opportunities for rhythmic movements, movements using one side of the body alternating with the other side (e.g., marching), and movements using both sides of the body at the same time (e.g., jumping).
  • Provide opportunities for children to combine large motor and balance skills and use perceptual information to guide their movements. For example, create obstacle courses (indoor and outdoor) that allow children to experience a variety of movement and balance challenges.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities to practice large motor skills in a variety of settings and with a variety of materials and equipment. Sometimes a familiar activity in a different setting seems like a completely new experience.
  • Create movements that call for working with a partner, working with a small group, and working all together.
  • Create gross motor activities that call for teamwork, cooperation, and problem-solving (e.g., getting toys from one side of the classroom to the other without stepping out of individual boundaries).
  • Allow children to create their own physical activity game and rules, and revise and modify it over time.
  • Provide a variety of equipment to accommodate individual differences in children's body size, skill level, and development of physical and sensory skills. For example, provide balls of different sizes, shapes, textures, and weight. Provide different types and sizes of riding toys.
  • Create gross motor activities that provide automatic and sensory feedback. For example, provide targets with sound that let children know they hit it (e.g., targets for bean bag toss or kicked balls). Provide objects that make a sound when knocked down or hit (e.g., hitting a beach ball with a short Styrofoam "noodle").

Home Visitors

Home visitors can support parents in identifying, adapting, and trying the practices listed above during home visits and group socializations. Here are more ideas.3,4,5,6

  • Reassure parents that children develop motor skills at different rates, and "detours" and steps backward are common. If parents have concerns about their child's motor development, suggest community resources to address their questions and support parents, as needed, in accessing the resources.
  • Talk with parents about creating an environment that is safe for their child to explore and has room for children to move their bodies. Brainstorm ways they can do this within their available space. Also talk about minimizing the amount of time their infant spends in equipment that restricts movement (e.g., bouncers, baby swings) and why freedom of movement is important to the infant's development.
  • Brainstorm with parents ways to use the home environment to provide interesting physical challenges (e.g., put a firm sofa pillow on the floor for an infant to crawl over). Offer strategies for providing guidance to their child who wants to climb on tables or other surfaces unacceptable to parents.
  • Talk with parents about opportunities for gross motor development that are available outdoors. For example, in addition to parks and playgrounds, their child may enjoy "painting" a sidewalk or fence using paintbrushes and rollers dipped in water. Neighborhood walks provide opportunities to practice walking, balancing, jumping, bending, and running.
  • Talk with parents about the importance of "tummy time" for their nonmobile infant and ways to use it to promote reaching and movement.
  • Reassure parents that it is normal (and helpful!) for children to be active. Infants who crawl and walk spend half of their waking hours involved in motor behavior, approximately five or six hours a day.
  • Talk with parents about the importance of exercise for their toddler and preschooler. Suggest activities that can be done inside and outside and encourage parents to add their ideas.

1California Department of Education, California Infant/Toddler Curriculum Framework (Sacramento, CA: author, 2012), 127–135, Perceptual and Motor Development, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/itcurriculumframework.pdf.

2California Department of Education, California Preschool Curriculum Framework Volume 2 (Sacramento, CA: author, 2011), 140, 142–144, 156–163, Physical Development, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/psframeworkvol2.pdf.

3California Department of Education, California Infant/Toddler Curriculum Framework (Sacramento, CA: author, 2012), 124, 125, 139, Perceptual and Motor Development, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/itcurriculumframework.pdf.

4California Department of Education, California Preschool Curriculum Framework Volume 2 (Sacramento, CA: author, 2011), 161–162, Physical Development, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/psframeworkvol2.pdf.

5Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children, Massachusetts Early Learning Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers (Boston, MA: Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, 2010), 66, Physical Health and Well-being,

6Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHS NRC), OpenDoors Home Visitor's Handbook (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, EHS NRC, 2014), Chapter 10.3, Physical Development and Health, How To.

Last Updated: February 13, 2019