Friday, September 23, 2011

Ways To Build Your Child's Gross Motor Skills With The Help Of Active Books

Baby bookworm loves to read (that IS the definition of a bookworm).

When we go to the park, in fact, she'll manage to find a book that is stashed in the underneath part of her stroller, underneath a blanket, which is underneath a ball.  It's like she has some freakish 6th sense for books. This is sometimes much to my dismay, though, because the whole point of GOING to the PARK is so that she'll run around like a crazy toddler, tire herself out, and crash for a good, long 2 hour nap so mommy can get some much needed time to sip coffee, read blogs, and unload the dishwasher (not to mention pee in private). 

The trip to park is NOT so that she'll sit on the park bench reading, which is something we do plenty of at home.  But what can I say?  Some kids are climbers, runners, and jumpers; others would rather have their noses in books or be playing with calculators or something. 

Nearly every day I have a run in with some random stranger who comments that she has an "amazing vocabulary for a child under 2", or says something like "boy, she talks a lot".  I'm still waiting for someone to comment that she is amazingly athletic. 

I know that gross motor skills, though, like running, jumping, playing ball, balancing on a one foot, or walking up and down the steps are really important!  So if baby bookworm only wants to do one lap around the playground before acting bored of it, then I probably need other ways to help strengthen these skills. 

You can probably guess where this is going.......

Here's some books that we've read recently and how we have used them to foster the development of gross motor skills.
Ballerina by Peter Sis

by Peter Sis

This book is about a little girl who loves ballet.  She leaps, tip toes, flutters, reaches, dips, and twirls as she pretends she is a ballerina on the big stage.  Her parents, of course, love their ballet "concert". 

Simple text means this is an easy book for your toddler to enjoy over and over, and read from memory.  Baby bookworm is a huge fan.

Gross Motor Activity:  Reenact the story. 
  • Terry, the little girl, loves to move like a real ballerina.  When she does an action like a ballerina such as "flutter" or "twirl" or "tiptoe" - invite your child to move in the same manner
  • Be sure to model the movements for your toddler and have fun with it; the more you get into the activity, the more he or she will get into it
  • You can also demonstrate words in the book with common household items; for example, to help your child understand what it means to "float," use a feather or a balloon.  Then ask your child to mimic the movement of the object
  • You may want to ask your child if he or she needs more room to leap, flutter, or twirl? Why?
  • Focus on the action vocabulary words in the book; pairing actions with these new words will add meaning to them
  • Finally, in the last few pages of the book Terry dances with rainbow ribbons; regular party streamers would work fine for your make-at-home version.  Try asking your child to do such things as "sway the streamers back and forth" or "make circles with the streamers" for added fun and learning.

Pretending to be a ballerina
Baby bookworm thinks she is VERY cool dancing like a ballerina.  I think it's VERY cool she is actually enjoying her gross motor lesson.  For fun, we usually put on her ballerina costume (reused from Halloween last year).

Giraffes Can't Dance

Giraffes Can't Dance
by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

This is a story about a giraffe named Gerald who is a terrible dancer thanks to his long legs and wobbly knees.  In fact, he's such a terrible dancer that all of the other animals in the jungle make fun of him at their dance.  Gerald watches on the side lines as all of other animals dance beautiful waltzes, cha-chas, and tangos.  Feeling down on himself, Gerald stumbles upon a friendly and wise cricket who teaches him that dancing is all about finding music that you love.

This is a truly cute tale that baby bookworm enjoys.  We checked out the version of the story that came with the audio CD and I think it does a nice job of bringing the Jungle Dance and characters to life.

Gross Motor Activity:  Dancing, of course!  Baby bookworm loved this activity that taught her how different styles of music can influence how people move.
  • Start with your child's favorite song or genre of music and invite him or her to move his body to the beat
  • Next, change the music to a completely different style and see how this music inspires him or her to move
  • Talk with your child about the song's tempo and how that may influence his own movements (for example, if the music is fast does that make him feel like jumping?  If the music is slow, does that make him want to sway?); try exploring volume too
  • You may even want to show your child dances from different cultures
  • Finally, try to see if your child can put two or three "dance" movements together.  For example, can he or she leap, twirl, then sway?
Baby bookworm actually has a keyboard that has a tempo and volume control that worked well for this activity. 

The keyboard we used with tempo and volume controls;
it also has kiddie songs on it

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around
by Penny Dann

This is a fun nursery rhyme that can easily be acted out with toddlers.  There are many versions of this story, and baby bookworm and I have one that is actually contained in a set of other nursery rhymes.  Whatever version you have, though, will likely make for a great beginning to a gross motor activity, or for a before-bed treat.

Gross Motor Activity: Follow the leader.  Baby bookworm loved this game which taught her about waiting her turn, and engaged her in some creative movement.
  • Start by explaining the game of follow the leader to your child; say something like, "Teddy bear will be the leader today.  First he's going to do a movement, then you will do it next."
  • Then read the first few pages of the text...."Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around..."  You can even demonstrate the movements with a toy teddy bear like we did.
  • Invite your child to do exactly as teddy bear does, and continue in this manner throughout the book.  We actually added "baby bookworm, baby bookworm" when it was her turn rather than teddy bear.
  • Once you are done with the story, make up your own actions!  We tried....jump up and down, give high kicks, do splits, leap with a bound, wiggle all around, bounce (a ball) up and down, and roll (a ball) all around, do a prance, do a ballerina dance, skip all around, and then fall down. 
I think follow the leader is a new favorite game!  We played this at least 10 times and she even wanted to then take teddy bear to the playground with her!

What happens if you don't have a toddler?  All of these activities can be adapted for an infant or a child older than baby bookworm (who is almost 22 months). 

Looking for more information?

Read! Move! Learn!

  • to learn more about the development of gross motor skills, and the importance of bilateral integration in reading and writing, I encourage you to visit School Sparks.
I am sharing this post at the Learning All The Time blog; they host a weekly link up on favorite resources. Check it out for great ideas for kids of all ages.


  1. What great ideas! I love the pairing of the books with physical activity...ingenious :)
    Thanks for linking up!

  2. Love these books! We are always looking for ways to get moving... so we will need to check these out of the library and try some of these activities!

  3. Thanks for checking out my post. It really is a good way to sneak in gross motor skills, especially on those rainy days.

  4. I love pairing books with learning! Please link this post to my Read.Explore.Learn. link up!

  5. Thanks for visiting. I'll definitely check it out!

  6. So great to see how you have implemented ideas from our book, "Read, Move, Learn", and have extended the learning for little ones. Good on you and I hope that more new
    parents get on board by doing the same. The learning curve from allowing children to "try on" new words through movement and acting them out is so accelerated.
    Nicki Collins Geigert

    1. So nice to have you stop by my blog! I have used your book a number of times as inspiration for activities - its a wonderful resource! My most popular post mentions your book as well.


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