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Why Are Gross Motor Skills Important?

October 19, 2022 | Emily Ford Sytsma

Physical education happens for our Lower School students in both formal and informal ways.  All teachers provide opportunities for movement regularly during the day.  Gross motor skills are developed in full-body play in the drama area of the Studio.  Children run and climb at their park time daily.  

While many motor competencies develop through play, children also need planned activities to guide them to be physically active and healthy for a lifetime (NASPE, 2022)  So, our students work with Mr. Zach Licato each week on developing new motor skills according to a developmental continuum and physical education standards.   

The PE standards for kindergarten and first grade include work in the following areas:

  • Locomotion/traveling skills  (changing directions smoothly and quickly; running, galloping, skipping; jumping, hopping, and spinning)
  • Manipulative skills (throwing, catching, and dribbling; handling a ball while moving)
  • Games, dance, sports and recreational activities. 

PE class also involves learning teamwork, effective communication and respect among class and team members. This is a big part of the fall curriculum.  Mr. Licato designs organized games at each grade level.  He says, “We are working on understanding the meaning of sharing, respect, honesty, and other positive behaviors in games.  We also focus on recognizing the importance of safety concerns and behaviors (e.g. rules, signals, routines) when participating in our games.”

Thinking about these social elements and safety while participating in movement, involves the use of many parts of the brain.  

Research reveals that physical activity in early childhood has a positive impact on children’s cognitive development, particularly executive function skills and understandings (Carney et al., 2016). And “increased physical activity correlates to increased student achievement, specifically in the areas of learning and memory function” (Edwards, 2014).

You may see a fun game of tag but, in that work, students are building cardiovascular endurance and gross motor skills, learning more about social and emotional regulation and relationships, and improving their mental controls.

Emily Ford Sytsma

Early Childhood Director

Ms. Sytsma began her career as an educator working in inclusive classrooms in the state of Hawaii but found her roots began to grow here at Mustard Seed School when she came to teach in 1996. She joined the preschool team in 2007, after teaching for many years in the Middle School. She finds delight in the preschool’s approach to teaching and learning, inspired by the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Early Childhood Director, she seeks to support teachers in their work helping children learn about thinking and creative expression.

Ms. Sytsma’s the mother of a MSS alum and a current student. When not at school, Ms. Sytsma enjoys traveling with her husband and two children. She tends a very simple rooftop garden in Jersey City Heights and on long Saturday mornings, she may be seen taking long walks along the Hudson River and listening to audiobooks or podcasts while organizing her thoughts and getting her heart rate up.

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