13 Gross Motor and Midline Elf on the Shelf Activities
This article provides information regarding crossing the midline. We have included affiliate links for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
Way back in the day before Elf on the Shelf was even created, it was our annual tradition to have the elf come visit our house and bring small toys and activities for my kids to do as the countdown to Christmas began. As every parent knows, it’s great motivation to help your kids stay “nice” during the holidays and prevent “bad behavior” because the elf is watching. Now that Elf on the Shelf has become such a huge hit, I enjoy this time of year even more with my kids, students and grandkids as I watch their excitement each day about what the elf will do next at their house.
Then the idea struck me. Because Elf on the Shelf provides huge motivation for children to be good for Santa, why not create opportunities at home and at school to get students and children motivated and excited about building their gross and fine motor skills, vestibular systems, proprioception, sensory systems and also creates more opportunities for activities that help retained primitive reflexes and midline crossing? Genius!
That is why this year we are devoting an entire series to Elf on the Shelf as a way to give parents, Occupational Therapists and teachers ideas on how to integrate activities in your child’s everyday routine to help their development and educational growth.
To get started, we’re going to need a little help from one of our amazing employees and parents, Katie.
Elf on the Shelf – Gross Motor and Midline Activities
Our family has been participating in the Elf on the Shelf craze for four years now, and it gets better and better every year. I love finding new ideas, recreating the old, and seeing the emerging traditions that come from this funny little magical elf. In this seasonal series, I will be sharing some fun Elf on the Shelf ideas that incorporates sensory and development experiences. Each week, we will introduce new ideas for you to do with your children to help improve their learning capabilities. Here are the themes that we will discuss each week:
- Week 1: Gross Motor and Midline (toys and exercises that get kids moving)
- Week 2: Fine Motor (activities that will help a child with hand movements, hand strength and hand-eye coordination)
- Week 3: Sensory Touch and Texture (any activity that will aid your child’s sensory system by getting messy and having fun with texture and touch)
- Week 4: Sensory Foods/Smells and Sight (activities to help your child become more familiar with foods, tastes, smells, and sound)
Building your child’s gross motor skills is extremely important for their growing body and development, especially those activities that incorporate midline activities like you read earlier in the article “Why Crossing the Midline Activities Helped this Child Listen to his Teacher.” These skills involve the large muscles of the body that enable such functions as walking, running, kicking, sitting upright, and throwing a ball.
Your child’s gross motor skills depend on both their muscle tone and strength. Why is this important and how does it help my child learn in the classroom? Gross motor skills and midline activities are important for major body movement such as coordination, maintaining balance, reaching and jumping to name a few. These abilities share connections with other physical functions.
For example, a child’s ability to maintain upper body support affects your child’s writing capability. These skills and activities also allow your child to retain what the teacher is teaching; it prevents behavior issues, improves attention and focus in the classroom, and even helps your child get their thoughts down on paper or copy instructions from the chalkboard to their paper.
Even helping my own son to stay active in the winter and getting him motivated to do some of these exercises at home can be a challenge. That is why the elf is helping us provide some motivation this year and why we are taking some of these important skills and throwing them in with a fun, creative holiday traditions that create memories for years to come.
The Elf’s Recommendations
Some of our elf’s recommendations are easy, fun and don’t cost anything. You will want to use these ideas on days when they are out of school (perhaps on weekends). However, we’ve found the best results come from those gross motor activities that incorporate toys, swings and strength-based items. Use these activities on days where your child is going to school and when they need that extra sensory stimulation for learning.
Remember to pick and choose a few of these ideas to do this year and save the rest for later. Here are a few of our Elf on the Shelf ideas straight from the North Pole that include some activities to help their core muscle strength, gross motor skills and also incorporates midline crossing. If you don’t have an elf yet, click here to get your own.
Hula Hooping Elf
Set up your elf so he or she is sitting. Crack the glow in the dark bracelet and connect it to make a circle. Place the bracelet around the elf’s stomach so it looks like it is using the hula hoop. Because it is now darker in the morning, your child will love watching it glow in the dark. Place your own hula hoop near the elf on the floor. When your kids find the elf, they can hula hoop with the elf to help strengthen their legs and core.
It is also a great activity for their balance and coordination. To incorporate a midline activity, have your child put the hula hoop on the ground. Help them put one foot in the hoop, then cross the opposite food behind their standing leg (doing the grapevine) and bring their standing leg to the outside of the hoop. Grapevine back and forth with opposite legs and feet using the hoop.
Extra fun tip: You can set up a hula hoop party with barbies, action figures and stuffed animals that also have glow in the dark bracelets.
To get the hula hoop we use, click here.
Elf Shootin’ Hoops
Place the basket or tin on a flat surface. Next, set up your elf about two feet away with one or two small toy balls near the elf and one in his or her hands. You could place an extra ball in the tin. You can show your child that the elf has been busy playing basketball all night and he wants them to shoot some hoops as well. This is a great weekend activity to encourage your kids to shoot some hoops outside or they can even shoot hoops with this small basketball set above.
Extra fun tip: If you have a small basketball set used for toddlers, set it up near the elf.
To use the basketball set we have, click here.
Elf’s Step’n it Up
This is one of the best activities for building your child’s gross motor skills while also improving their hand-eye coordination, and it is good all year long. This activity helps your child get their thoughts down on paper and helps them copy instructions from the board to their worksheets. Have your child place the bean bags on one end of the stepper and have them stomp their foot on the opposite end of the stepper, which projects the bean bag into the air so your child can catch the bean bag. Have your child use both right and left feet for this activity and complete as many times as they can.
To use the stepper we have, click here.
- Miniature skateboard (you can make one using a small piece of wood and wheels from a toy car)
- Cardboard boxes (optional)
- Skateboard (one for your child)
Place the elf sitting astride the mini skateboard. If you want, you can set up some small cardboard boxes to make a mini skate park. The Elf has been tearin’ it up all night! This is a super fun idea to do if your child has a skateboard, mini skateboard or longboard. Even if they haven’t mastered standing on a skateboard, have them sit on it just like the Elf is doing. Some children, especially those with low muscle tone, can’t ride a skateboard, but they can kneel on the skateboard and ride it on the sidewalk. Even if they can’t stand, kneeling is very beneficial because they are still using their arms and legs for building core muscle and it allows them to use both side of their body for crossing the midline as they use opposite arms and legs to skate across the floor.
They can also sit their bottom on the skateboard with their legs straight in front of them. Help your child take their right foot and put it over their left foot (like a toe tap) as they glide across the floor, putting one foot over the other each time they glide on the skateboard (similar to the grapevine). Do this activity with the opposite side so they are crossing the midline.
For the RipStik skateboard my son uses, click here.
Roly Poly Elf
This is an easy and fun activity to do at home and doesn’t require very much effort. If you have stairs in your home or classroom, unroll a little bit of the toilet paper and put your elf inside the roll so his arms and legs are sticking out. Place the elf on the stairs with a little bit of the toilet paper lagging behind the elf so it appears he has been rolling down the stairs.
When your child finds the elf, help them roll around your house or even take them to a park with some hills so they can roll down the hills. This is extremely important and effective for your child’s vestibular system. The vestibular system helps your child process information (commonly thought of as a hearing problem), improves retention of letters and words, encourages speech and language development and builds their balance and muscle strength.
Place your elf on the pogo jumper. The pogo jumper because it’s easy, fun and squeaks when they jump. It is a great activity your child can do to help their sensory input while they are developing their gross motor skills.
For the jumper we use, click here.
You may need to string your elf up with a string or some fishing wire to make it look like your elf is stepping in each hoop of the agility ladder. There are so many fun activities your child can do with this agility ladder to help them build their gross motor skills and cross the midline. When your child finds the elf doing some awesome moves with the agility ladder, help them hop from right to left in each of the hoops on the floor.
You can use the grapevine activity with their feet or ask them to get down in the plank position and have them cross one hand over the other in each hoop as they work their way across the ladder (also crossing the midline). This is a great activity for skipping, hopping, jumping and toe tapping in each of the circles. All great for crossing the midline and improving vestibular and core muscle.
For the hoop ladder we use, click here.
Elf gets Musical
Our elf is getting musical overnight with what we call the “musical skipper.” If you have a string or fishing wire, position your elf so it looks like he or she is jumping over one of the legs of the musical skipper. I was surprised at how much my students loved this musical skipper when I first bought it and how they could spend hours doing this one activity. The legs of the skipper move in a circle at a slow, medium or fast pace while your child jumps over the legs. It also plays music too. Help your child jump over each leg with both feet or with one leg and then the other. Both are great activities for your child’s balance and coordination.
For the skipper we use, click here.
This is by far one of the best activities for both the elf and the kids. You can use either an empty toilet paper roll or a toilet paper roll that is not yet fully used, which is similar to a tire swing you may find at the park. Loop a piece of string through the toilet paper roll and then find a place to hang the elf so it appears like he is swinging. When your child finds the elf swinging, find a time and a warmer day to take them to the park, even in the winter.
Swinging is one of the best activities you can do with your child, especially if they struggle with learning challenges. Encourage them to swing the traditional way, but also have them swing backward and on their stomach. Another swinging activity you want to do is help your child twist the swing like licorice and then let them go as they spin back to normal position. If you have a tire swing at your park, that’s even better. Swinging helps your child’s vestibular system, provides them with sensory input, and strengthens their arms, legs and core. Our sensory seekers love to swing and can’t get enough of it. It helps with attention, focus, balance and coordination.
Skipping n’ Swing
Prop your elf up against the wall with the blue skipper or hold the elf up with a string or fishing wire. When your child sees the blue skipper, help them put it around their ankle and swing it around so they jump over the ball. This activity may be tricky at first, but it is fun for the kids and is very helpful for coordination and balance. It helps them engage their core muscles and strengthens their gross motor. It’s also a great activity for organizing the right and left sides of the brain for higher learning.
To get the swing ball we use, click here.
Hopping and Jumping
Prop your elf up against the wall with the blue twirl and jump set or hold the elf up with a string or fishing wire. Jumping and hopping is very beneficial for building your child’s gross motor skills. With the twirl and jump set, your child can hold the stick and jump over the ball attached (similar to the blue skipper above). If your child struggles with core muscle strength or balance and coordination, this activity is a little easier than the blue skipper. It also allows them to engage both their hands and feet, which is perfect for hand-eye coordination.
To get the jump set we use or to give a few to family and friends, click here.
Choose one or more of the following balancing items:
Help your elf balance on one of the balance boards of your choice. When your child finds your elf balancing on one of these items, they will want to join in. You can’t go wrong with any of these balance boards, although they each provide a different type of movement or option. Balancing is great for your child’s core. They have to stabilize themselves on the board without falling off. This can be tough for children with low muscle tone or if they tend to bump into furniture, walls and other people.
While doing this activity, you can play music to make it more fun or even play memory games by asking them questions (for example, asking them to recite letters, numbers and multiplication facts). The rocking see-saw is a great one for kids because while they rock back and forth, we like to add a bean bag activity with it. You can either throw them the bean bag or have them pass it from hand to hand. It’s great for helping your child cross the arms over each other as a midline activity while they balance with their legs and feet. The Wobble Deck is fun because it plays music and has the foot stepper.
- Blue bouncy ball (any type of bouncy ball with a handle)
Position your elf so it is bouncing on the ball. Kids love these bouncy balls and they can even have races when there are multiple kids. Again, the bouncy ball is wonderful for your child’s vestibular system and their development milestones.
To get the bouncy ball we use, click here.
Enjoy this magical time of year and have fun with this little North Pole visitor while working on some awesome gross motor skills.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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