We don't need to provide a lot of activities to promote gross motor development, it really comes naturally to the child and they will find things in the environment to support them. But it is important that we provide a safe environment and sometimes that means giving them things to climb up on rather than them climbing on unwanted things like chairs or tv cabinets. It means that we need to provide an environment that supports movement. A lot of families will provide gross motor activities outdoors but there is no reason it can't be done inside too.
One of our parent-toddler classes had the room split in two, one side was just like a typical Montessori parent-toddler class with tables, chairs and, shelves full of activities on trays. The other side was for gross motor skills and had things like a yoga mat with a few yoga cards, bean bags for bean bag toss, plastic stilts and a little rocking boat. Some children would spend all of their time in the gross motor section, it's that important and comes from a natural drive within the child. Otto's natural drive at nine months is to do everything possible to get into a standing position. He will pull up on anything - people, stairs, a step stool, anything. Here are a few ways we promote gross motor activity in our home:
- Allow for climbing on stairs. We don't have a gate on the bottom of the stairs so we allow Otto to climb them. He recently made it up four stairs and it was wonderful to watch his achievement. We only allow him in this area when we are available to directly supervise him, he cannot at this stage get down safely and will slide down. Montessori classrooms often have the steps for children learning to walk, while it isn't possible to have this in the home, climbing stairs (while supervised) can have huge benefits.
- Inside and outside we love a good obstacle course with a tunnel. Crawlers will often love crawling over pillows or cushions and through obstacles.
- Provide a steady and sturdy walker wagon. This is a loved item in our home. Otto is only taking a few shaky steps with it but he is pulling up on it all the time. He also loves to ride in it while his brothers push him around. This one has been loaned to us by a lovely friend.
- The playground might not be an obvious place for an infant but it provides a lot of opportunity for gross motor skill development.
- Pikler Arch (ours is c/o Wiwiurka). As we have decided not to install a Montessori style pull up bar, this has been an excellent alternative. We've had it in Otto's movement area for a couple of months, he reaches for it when he wants to and easily pulls up on it. He is reaching for higher bars but hasn't started climbing or stepping up on it. Otto also climbs through it, hides under it, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
- Ball play. Because I have older children we have a lot of sports balls in the house. Otto is absolutely loving rolling a larger, in this case a basketball. It only took him a few minutes to work it out, we sit facing him with our legs out and roll the ball to him and he rolls it back to us. A ball basket with smaller balls is also excellent for the crawling infant.
- We allow cruising on furniture such as our couch and ottomans. Otto also enjoys walking around supported by our step stool and a friend recently recommended using an upturned laundry basket.
- Provide child-size furniture such as infant low shelves, weaning table and child-size chairs for pulling up on and sitting at. In the mornings Otto will often spend 15-20 minutes practicing getting in and out of his weaning chair.
- Our large ball tracker (if you are in the US, we love this one) encourages Otto to stand to put the ball in and then kneel down again to get the ball from the drawer. It has also taught him at a rather early age to pull the drawer in and out.
- Wheely Bug Bee. These are designed for an older child to sit on them to ride but my children have also enjoyed pushing them around while crawling and later while standing.
- We promote movement wherever we go. Otto spends most of his day crawling around the house exploring. Clothing that promotes free movement is important too and Otto is barefoot as much as possible which really helps with climbing.
Above image is adapted from "Give me space and give me time" - the pedagogy of Emmi Pikler using the example of the SpielRaum for Bewegung.