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Parent Tips: Playground Games Promote Fun and Gross Motor Skills

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Whether or not you foster dreams of your child becoming a great athlete, the gross motor skills that come from playground games foster physical mastery that can lead to athletic prowess.

Parks and playgrounds have open fields and wide areas that are great places to play the kinds of games that build gross motor skills through field play. Fields are also a great place for ball play, including throwing, kicking and catching. Throwing a ball creates self-generated balance disturbances, and catching a ball promotes play involving both hands, as well as hand-eye coordination.

Kicking a ball requires a child to balance on one foot and isolates the opposite leg’s muscles to do entirely different jobs. A wide, open field allows for practice with running, whether chasing after a ball or playing games like red light, green light. Squatting and jumping can be fun skills to incorporate into scavenger hunts around the park, along with talking on the playground phones and stomping leaves.

Here are 3 of my favorite playground games and some of the skills they promote:

1. Scavenger Hunts

If you bring any toy with you to the park, the park becomes the perfect hiding spot for puzzle pieces, plastic eggs, figurines or blocks to be collected throughout the park. The beauty of the park is hiding items in different places allows for practicing a variety of different motor skills, like climbing, stair stepping and sliding. The items can be hid to best promote the skills you want when playing at a park, and the options for games are endless.

2. Leaf Stomping

Whether the leaves are in a big pile or spread across the sidewalk in a pattern, stomping leaves promotes leg strengthening, balance and motor accuracy. Stomping can be with one foot multiple times in a row or alternating between feet back and forth. Both activities require single-leg balance and strength when making contact with the ground. Stomping can also involve jumping with two feet, which is a more challenging skill and can be very rewarding when the leaves crunch. Placing the leaves in a pattern creates an obstacle course from nature.

3. Pretend Play

Bringing a tea set, some play food or a baby doll to the park can be a new way to promote imaginative play with your child. This new environment can inspire creativity and imagination with these common toys, inviting new games with you or other children. For example, the playground could turn into a shopping center, with play food "for sale" throughout the park, or the slide could be a mountain for the baby doll to climb.

Caroline Ubben, PT, DPT, PCS


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