Get Their Motors Running (Part 2)
By Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell
Early motor skill development forms the foundation for sport, exercise, dance…a lifetime of physical activity. Help develop them with age-appropriate, safe and fun activities. Here’s how to

THROWING
While it seems such a basic skill, throwing is actually a highly complex series of motions, utilizing almost the entire body. Throwing requires coordination, timing, precision and—practice!

Age Range:
2-3: Children at this age throw two-handed, “pushing” the ball with their upper bodies (So here, it’s helpful to use light plastic balls they can grasp more easily).
4-6: Children at this age are able to connect a few motor skills to form a pattern. At this age, it begins to become a “full body” throw, with trunk rotation and follow through.

Activities To Help:
2-3:Have your child take that plastic ball and roll it, thrust it against the wall, toss it high in the air. No targets, no aim, no parental expectations needed here.
4-6:Draw a chalk circle or set up a hoop-shaped target on a wall. Have the kids stand 8-10 feet away and practice throwing a light plastic or tennis ball into the center of the circle.

JUMPING
When we jump, we propel the body off the floor or apparatus, into a momentary period of flight. Jumping is exciting, graceful, powerful—and also essential in sports activities. Basketball rebounding, playing the outfield in baseball, defending a wide receiver in football…these are just a few examples of where the ability to leap high looms large.

Age Range:
2-3:Jumping at this level usually achieves little height or distance. It’s just for fun—and that’s what you should encourage your children to do; have fun jumping and feeling the sensation of momentarily losing contact with the ground.
4-6:Children this age can take off with one foot and land on the same foot or the opposite foot. Jumping can also include other movements such as—jumping with a half turn, jumping to the accented beat of a drum, or even jumping over low lying objects or across short distances, such as a puddle.

Activities To Help:
2-3:Ask children to simply jump up and come down on two feet. Then, do the same from a single step height on your porch or stairway. As they get more surefooted, have them try to make the downward jump off one foot and land on the other.
4-6:Do “imitation” jumps: Have your child jump like a kangaroo, a leap frog…or make believe you are jumping beans, or popcorn popping in the microwave. Try to encourage them to alternate the foot pattern on the jumps—take off on left foot, then take off on right, land with one foot, then both.

BALANCING
Balance is the ability to maintain one's equilibrium in relation to the force of gravity. In sports, as in life, it’s what keeps us from falling down!

Age Range:
2-3:Children at this age can balance on one foot for 3-4 seconds, and can also walk straight on a track about 1-2” wide.
4-6:At this age, children can balance on one foot for 10-15 sec. They can also walk on a low balance beam 2-3 inches off the floor while alternating steps, right to left.

Activities to Help:
2-3:Ask children to follow a line on the floor—it could be the seam on the sidewalk, the line markings on a playground or simply one you draw with a piece of chalk As they tow the line, tell them to pretend they are a tight rope walker in the circus: Don't fall off! Another activity for this age: Have kids balance on one foot, then bend down and try and balance on both arms and tippy-toes. Then you can pick up their legs—wheelbarrow-style—and ask them to balance using just their arms.
4-6:Ask children to hop on one foot in place, now hop in a circle, a square…form an “X” pattern on the floor. Also, try skipping, galloping, and leaping about—all of these are fun ways to move will reinforce balancing skills.

VOLLEYING
Tennis, volleyball, soccer…many sports involve the ability to “return” a moving object by striking it with your hand, foot or with a stick or club.

Age Range:
2-3:Children at this age can volley—balloons or oversized, inflatable balls—with no expectation for control, direction or height. This is an ideal time for children to merely develop basic eye-hand coordination and tracking skills.
4-6:Will be able to volley using different body parts, and in different directions with additional force.

Activities To Help:
2-3:Children can play “keep it up” with 2-3 friends. Get in a circle, toss up a balloon or an oversized ball, see how many times the group can keep it up before it touches the ground.
4-6:Another great game to play is chair volleyball. Tie a string across two chairs about four feet apart. Each player tries to volley the ball or a balloon across the string. Don't worry about the score—neither will the kids!

Article by John Hanc, fitness writer for Newsday in New York and author of five books on fitness-related topics, with Dr. Stephen J. Virgilio, youth fitness expert and professor at Adelphi University in Garden Ctiy, New York.