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Guest Blog: Animal Shapes to Encourage Gross Motor Skills

All material Copyright © November 2010 The Down Syndrome Centre
Reprinted with the express permission of the Down Syndrome Centre as originally published on their website.
By: Stacy Menz
I have been looking at imaginative ways to encourage play and gross motor skills (oral motor as well if you throw in the animal sounds!). Well, one of my favorite is to pretend to be animals. You can do animal parades, animal races, animal charades, Simon Says animals, etc. Here are some of the animals I use and I will do my best to list some of the gross motor benefits for each animal.
Bear: Have your child walk on their hands and feet so they are bent in the middle. Walking this way helps to stretch out hamstrings and calf muscles. It also helps with balance, upper extremity weight bearing, total body coordination, core strength and leg strength.
Rabbit/Kangaroo: Have your child hop on two feet, for added effect you can have them hold their hands up in front of their chest since both animals have tiny arms. This works on jumping, endurance, and leg strength.
Dog/Cat: Crawling on hands and knees (although they could also be mouse or hamster, etc). This works upper extremity weight bearing, total body coordination with reciprocal movement, core strength, weight shifting, leg strength, and head and neck strength.
Lizard: Have your child ‘commando’ crawl on their belly. This works on reciprocal total body coordination, weight and pelvis shifting, upper and lower extremity strengthening, and core strength.
Crab: Have you child sit on their bottom and put their hands behind their tush, then lift their tush off the ground by pushing through their arms and legs. Basically they will be making a table with their body. This one is really challenging because of the motor planning so don’t let your child get discouraged. Even if they start out scooting along and dropping their bottom keep encouraging them over time to use their arms and legs to walk with, without their bottom hitting the floor! This really works their coordination, reciprocal movement, core strength, upper extremity weight bearing and leg strength.
Snake: Have your child lie on their belly and and use their arms to push up their chest and then pull themselves along. It can look like the old break dancing move ‘The Worm’ but even the lift and pull will work to start. This works on upper extremity weight bearing, coordination and core strength.
Duck: Have your child squat down so that their feet are flat on the floor but their bottoms are not on the floor. Have them walk in this position (and add in arm flapping for good measure). This really works on balance as well as stretching calf muscles, coordination, endurance, core muscle strength and leg strength.
Frog: Have your child squat down so their hands and feet are touching the floor with their knees bent. Have them hop forward (use circles for lily pads if you can). This works on leg and core strength, and jumping.
Bird: Have your child lie on their stomach and lift their head, arms and legs up in the air. If they can flap their arms also that’s an added bonus! This works on coordination, and total body strength.
Flamingo: Have your child stand on one foot. Make sure you take turns between feet. This works on balance, core strength, endurance.
Featured Organization: The Down Syndrome Centre
We thank the Down Syndrome Centre for allowing us to reprint their copyrighted article. For more information about this organization please visit The Down Syndrome Centre
Stacy Menz is a pediatric physical therapist who graduated from Boston University with both a masters and a doctorate in physical therapy. Stacy has extensive experience working with children with a variety of physical needs and diagnoses, including Down Syndrome. Stacy is the founder and owner of Starfish Therapies in San Francisco, CA where their philosophy is to work with the child and their families to develop and provide the care that best fits their individual needs.

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