This week, I have the honor of featuring my friend Jacklin Malkovich Pfaff, a Physical Therapist and Board Certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist. This post is full of researched information, and provides practical tips to help toddlers with their gross motor skill development. Read Jacklin’s article below:
As a pediatric physical therapist specializing in early intervention and a mom to two young boys, I understand and value physical activity and all aspects of learning and development. My older son is in the busy toddler stage of development and I have enjoyed watching his abilities develop from day to day. As toddlers grow and gain strength, balance, and coordination, providing them with appropriately challenging yet fun activities will assist them with gross motor skill development. A young child’s ability to imitate others is an important mechanism for social learning and acquiring new knowledge (Jones, 2009). Imitating is a combination of social, motor, and cognitive skills.
One idea for developing these skills while combining language and literacy is imitating actions in books. A few of my favorite books for this activity are: From Head to Toe by Eric Carle, Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page, and The Rooster Struts by Richard Scarry. These books demonstrate animals moving in different ways and unique action words for each movement. Some fun examples include frogs leaping, a gorilla thumping his chest, and a spider dancing.
Recent research suggests that movement directly influences the acquisition of language. According to Iverson (2010), three aspects of motor development are particularly influential on language development: posture, locomotion, and object-manipulation. By encouraging your toddler to imitate the movements each animal makes, you are helping to facilitate multiple areas of your child’s brain to work together. Your child’s motor cortex will be activated to physically move different body parts and the receptive language area of the brain will be activated as you read the words on the page. Most importantly, it’s a fun and silly activity that you can do with your child!
I enjoy getting down on the floor to wiggle like a worm or slither like a snake and my son also finds mommy being on the floor funny. He is not yet able to truly leap like a frog but I hold his hands and help him “leap” across the floor and he loves it. We imitate kicking like a donkey and swimming like a whale. Make up your own animal actions or create sounds each animal makes – be creative. The most important thing is to have fun and follow along with your child’s interest level in the book and with the activity. The more fascinating and fun an activity is, the more likely your child will be interested and the learning will occur naturally and positively.
By: Jacklin Pfaff, PT, MPT, PCS, (and most importantly) MOM
Iverson, J. (2010). Developing language in a developing body: the relationship between motor development and language development. Journal of Child Language, 37(2), 229–261.
Jones, S. S. (2009). The development of imitation in infancy. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1528), 2325-2335.
Jacklin is a Physical Therapist and is a Board Certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist. She has a specialization in Early Intervention. Jacklin has been a PT for almost 10 years and has worked in a variety of settings with adults and children during that time. She previously worked for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. She currently works at Total Education Solutions in the greater Los Angeles area as the Clinical Services and Physical Therapy Coordinator and provides direct physical therapy for children with a wide variety of diagnoses from birth to age twenty-two in clinics, homes, and schools. In addition to working full-time and being a full-time mom, she is currently working on a Doctorate in Health Sciences through the University of Oklahoma. She is the mom to two amazing boys, ages 18 months and 2 months.
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