What is Gross Motor Play?

Gross motor play includes the activities our children participate in to develop their gross motor skills.  Gross motor skills involve using our legs, arms, and torso to do activities such as sitting up, walking, and running.


As kids get older, gross motor skills will look like skipping, jumping, riding a bike, swimming, and throwing. As with cognitive or social learning, this type of skill is learned and honed through play beginning with the infant care stage and continuing through childhood with what we call gross motor play.


Gross Motor Milestones

The first two years of your child’s life are some of the most formative regarding their overall development. The basis for who they are and who they will become is happening before our eyes, and at times, it will feel like it is going in slow motion. At other times, moments will feel like they are happening far too quickly.


Top Seven Gross Motor Milestones Birth – One Year

Holds head up on their own

Rolls from back to belly

Sits up on their own

Crawling on their belly and then on hands and knees

Pulling up to stand

Stands on their own

Walking, with or without assistance


Developing these skills will progressively happen with the help of gross motor play games and activities. These are activities that are a natural part of infant care, whether with parents or at a child care center.


Gross Motor Play Time

Reaching the recommended gross motor developmental goals can be achieved by a variety of activities, both indoor and outdoor. You don’t need fancy toys or equipment to provide the best infant care and opportunities for strengthening their skills through gross motor play.

We are focusing on indoor activities for gross motor infant care, since these are activities you can do year-round, in any environment.


Indoor Gross Motor Play

Tummy Time

Homemade obstacle course with pillows and blankets

Supported sitting while an adult holds their torso


Playing with balls, bubbles, and balloons


Tummy Time: This is easily the most discussed gross motor play activity among infant care providers. Tummy time mats are typically the first type of structured play your infant will be introduced to. There are several styles that can include just a mat, a pillow for propping up, and soft bars overhead to encourage rolling over.


The purpose of the tummy time mat is to create a safe, soft space full of bright colors, reflective surfaces, and toys directed at serving infant care needs. Before they are mobile, the tummy time mat brings all their learning needs into one location.


Obstacle Course: While there are several products on the market intended to encourage climbing and crawling, you can easily make your own play space at home. As kids get older, they will begin climbing on couches and honestly anything they can reach. Keeping obstacles low to the ground will help ensure a safer adventure, specifically with infant care based in gross motor play.


Setting up pillows to climb over or different textures to crawl across are great ways to begin. The sensation of crawling on carpet will differ from crawling on a mat, blanket, or hardwood floor. Exposing your infant to different floor textures will activate their senses and natural curiosity.


Assisted Sitting: Once your infant is able to hold their head up on their own, typically around the three- or four-month mark, you can begin working on assisted sitting exercises. This can be done by balancing them on your knees while securely holding their torso. Another fun way to practice is having them sit on an exercise ball while holding their waist.


Dance, Dance: Children of all ages love music. Whether you play music made for infants, songs from a Disney movie, or use your early 2000s playlist, creating a musical atmosphere is great for infant care and gross motor skill development.


Music encourages gross motor play that engages all their limbs, from their arms and shoulders to their legs and toes. For most children (and adults, for that matter), rocking to music comes as second nature. Studies have shown that infants typically find the tempo and beat of music more engaging than regular speech.


Even as kids get into their preschool and elementary years, music is incorporated as a way to make learning more fun. Think back to how you learned the alphabet, the 50 United States, or how a bill becomes a law via Schoolhouse Rock.


Having a Ball: Balls of all shapes and sizes are fantastic toys for infant care all the way through adulthood. They are truly an ideal toy for gross motor play and fine motor play, as well. Some great ball-shaped objects for kids to play with are:


Sensory balls



Sports balls


Playing with balls is an integral part of mastering hand-eye coordination and grasping skills, which are great for independent or group play. During the infant care stage, using sensory balls is a fun way for babies to work on using their arms and legs while discovering new and fun textures. Stimulating their sense of touch in this way also activates their mind and sense of curiosity.


Bubbles are a favorite among children and infants. They have the shape of balls but move slowly through the air while reflecting light—it is truly a magical experience for kids. The slow pace of bubbles gives children more time and opportunity to catch and study them. This is a great indoor or outdoor activity and can provide an unlimited amount of fun.


Balloons are similar to bubbles in that they move slowly through the air and allow more reaction time from infants and toddlers. This slow-paced gross motor play can limit frustrations and encourage more positive experiences. The benefit of balloons over bubbles would be that they won’t disappear once they hit the ground.


Balloons can be used like sports balls, you can throw, hit, and kick them with little to no injuries or damage to people or household items. Another benefit is balloons come in a variety of colors, patterns, and shapes. If your child loves animals or a cartoon character, you can typically find a balloon in that shape.


Sports balls are great for toddlers and older kids. Kicking and throwing are skills developed through gross motor play that are beneficial long after they are children.


Learning is Fun

Gross motor play is the cornerstone of physical developmental and learning in infants and children. It is a great way for infants to stay engaged for extended periods, while also discovering the world around them. As parents or infant care providers, we love to document when our kids reach a milestone, but don’t forget to have fun along the way!