Locomotor Movement Skills For Toddlers & Kids – Lessons, Examples & Tips


What are Locomotor Movement Skills?

Locomotor Skills are when we move our bodies from one location to another. They are a gross motor skill and the word locomotor comes from the noun locomotion which basically means the act of moving from place to place.

Locomotion of our bodies can include walking, running, skipping, climbing, crawling, galloping, hopping, jumping, sliding, and leaping. Locomotor skills can include not only the mastery of these locomotor movements in their most simple form but can also include being able to do them forwards, backward, twirling or turning, slow or fast, on flat foot or tippy-toe or by adding a quality to them such as bopping, gliding, shimmying, vibrating, sustaining etc…

What are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross Motor Skills refer to the bigger movements we make with our bodies that require the co-ordination of our larger limbs, torso and muscles working together to move in unison. Gross Motor Skills are the opposite of Fine Motor Skills which refer to the smaller movements we make with the smaller limbs of our bodies in particular our fingers as in the act of writing or cutting for example.

Gross motor skills do not just refer to running, throwing balls and other activities you might see performed in a physical education lesson. They also refer to important everyday activities such as getting dressed, our posture, moving from one place to another and more.

How many types of Gross Motor Skills are there?

Gross Motor Skills can be divided up into two main categories. Locomotor skills that involve movement from one place to another and Control Skills that might require our bodies to control our limbs such as dancers do when they pose with a leg in the air for instance or control of an object such as when we kick a ball.

Why are locomotor skills important?

Locomotor skills are important as they are the means by which we move our bodies from one place to another. Practice and repetition of locomotor skills is important for children to help develop as many neural pathways as possible to support the coordination of this movement, as well as build strength in our muscles and joints to be able to perform them and muscle memory so that our brains send the messages to our muscles quickly to move them more proficiently.

What are some examples of Locomotor skills?

The following Dance Tutorials made especially for toddlers and kids have some great examples of locomotor skills. In the first video, children get to move their bodies to the beat of the music whilst they work on marching to the rhythm. They strengthen their calf and ankles muscles as they twirl on tiptoe and have fun co-ordinating their knees to bend, bop, and dance with the music. In the second video, children work on skipping or galloping to music that inspires swinging movement. They slide from side to side as if on ice and have to walk slowly and gracefully like a regal king or queen which develops full-body muscle control as well as balance.

What are the 8 Locomotor movements?

The main locomotor skills and basic travelling movements are:

  1. walking
  2. running
  3. jumping
  4. hopping
  5. skipping
  6. galloping
  7. sliding
  8. leaping

But there are many more ways of moving our bodies from one place to another especially when you start to think about getting down on your knees or lying flat such as crawling, rolling or slithering.

What are the benefits of locomotor movement activities?

The benefit of Locomotor movement activities is that they help to develop spatial awareness, balance, coordination of the larger limbs, visual-spatial awareness, cardiovascular fitness, and the more they are done the more pathways the brain will make to accommodate the muscle memory learning.

Spatial Awareness
Spatial awareness is knowing where your body is situated in space. Not in space as in up in space with the stars, but in the space or environment that your body occupies. It is the ability to know that if you take two steps forward you will be to close to the person you are waiting in line behind, or to be able to perceive that at the rate you are walking you will make it across the road before the car up the road comes. Spatial awareness is a really important skill that many children need to be consciously taught and locomotor skills play an important part in teaching them.

Visual Spatial Awareness
Visual spatial awareness is more about being able to visualise a space, whether you are present in the space or not. For example being able to navigate either through reading a map, listening to instructions or from a previous experience. Being able to estimate distance or measurements or being able to build a project from a diagram or from the blueprint in your mind. Proficient locomotor skills are needed to be able to move your body to be able to do any of these things.

Co-ordination of the Larger Limbs
At any age, sometimes getting our arms and legs to do what we want them to do can be a problem – except generally for those who train their locomotor skills and build their co-ordination everyday like dancers do. Locomotor activities done on a regular basis can help train the arms, legs and torso to do what the brain is asking them to do because the brain builds muscle memory as well as more pathways between the brain, nerves and those muscles that control the limbs. Co-ordination is a learned skill. Good co-ordination is a practiced skill. Excellent co-ordination is embeded in the body from repeated and consistent practice of locomotor movements.

Cardiovascular Fitness
Because locomotor movement is a gross motor skill which involves moving the largest limbs, our bodies needs to work extra hard to do them. This means that our heart rate increases and when we practice locomotor skills for an extended amount of time we over a period of time increase our cardiovascular or heart fitness.

Muscle Memory
The more you repeat a movement, the more likely your brain will store those movements within it’s neurons and the easier performing that movement will become. Therefore the more locomotor movement activities children engage in doing, the easier they will become for them to perform and do until, they start doing them almost without thinking – their muscle memory takes over.

What causes poor gross motor skills?

Poor gross motor skills can be developed from a lack of practice or engagement in activities that aim to develop them. They can also be caused by slow brain development or damaged nerve or brain cells because our bodies rely on the connection between our muscles, nerves, and brains to move them.

Most of us eventually learn to firstly roll, then crawl, cruise (walking with the aid of a couch for example), then walk and then to many parents’ horror – run. These skills come fairly naturally to most, but we don’t really stop to think about the hours and hours, months, and weeks of practice that actually goes into being able to do them. A baby does not just get up and walk! It takes time for their muscles to become stronger, for their co-ordination to develop, for them to find their balance and for the brain to create the millions of neuron connections needed to sufficiently do the locomotor skills.

What activities can help improve gross motor skills?

Activities to develop gross motor skills do not always have to be in the form of a lesson! They can be as simple as:

  • a visit to the playground,
  • a walk on the pebbles and rocks along a small creek
  • jumping waves or ripples in the water
  • running to and from waves at the beach
  • climbing and rolling down a hill
  • climbing a tree
  • playing with other children in wide-open spaces.
  • Games of chase or tag
  • Skipping rope
  • Bouncing, throwing and catching a ball
  • Walking along a log

It is important for the activities to be consistent and every day to create muscle strength, coordination, balance, and muscle memory which is the brain – nerve-muscle connections to be able to perform those movements especially when children are young.

LINKS TO THE CURRICULUM

Having my Bachelor of Education (Primary) and having taught in schools, I am always looking at ways to creatively teach children and regularly used dance and movement in my classrooms to enforce learning of concepts and material we were learning about in different areas of the school curriculum.

The following are some links and connections that can be made from the dance lessons above to various other areas of learning!

Mathematics and Arithmetic

  • Count each step as you march, bop, walk on tiptoe, skip, slide or walk. You can count to 100, count by 2s or 10s, etc..
  • Choose a type of locomotor movement and have races. Use a stopwatch to record your speed. If in a group, work out how much difference there was between slowest and fastest times, or if on your own try for a personal best and work out the difference between your fastest and slowest times. Another activity would be to put all your time in order from slowest to fastest.
  • Measure how many steps it takes to march from one location to another in a room, compared to how many it takes on tiptoe, skipping or sliding etc… Compare this to your standard measurements such as inches, yards or meters.

English and Literacy

  • Write a recount about the dance class. Focus on using adjectives and adverbs to describe the way you moved.
  • Make a spelling list of all the different ways humans move.
  • Use the dance lesson to learn about verbs or doing words.
  • Create a list of as many verbs and adjectives you can that describe different locomotor movements.
  • Explore past and present tense – for example, I ran and I am running.
  • Write an argumentative or persuasive essay regarding how technology has changed the way humans move and travel.

Social Studies

  • Learn about how Marching is used by different communities and cultures (eg compare a Dance Drill Team to the Changing of the Guard.)
  • Use this lesson as a springboard to learn about all the ways humans travel including using machines and technology.
  • Discover how humans moved before we had cars and other forms of transport.

Science & Technology

  • Learn about the muscles and bones of the feet and legs that help us walk both on flat feet and on tippy-toe. Focus on the Achilles Tendon and how it contracts and releases as you go up and down.
  • Investigate the friction that is produced when we slide objects of differing weights on various surfaces including our bodies. When does friction increase and how can you decrease the friction?
  • Learn about how static electricity is produced through friction. When is it most likely to occur?
  • Biology – Investigate the different ways animals travel and move and how this compares to how humans travel and move.
  • Biology – Discover why locomotor movement activities are so important to the health and development of the human body.

Physical Education

  • Explore all the different types of locomotor skills – skipping, running, walking, jumping, hopping, sliding, galloping and leaping.
  • Discover the difference between locomotor and non-locomotor or controlled movement. That is a movement that travels and movement that occurs on the spot.

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