It all starts with a slow bend at the knees, arms swinging back for power, nose scrunched, and eyes narrowed as their concentration on the task at hand increases. Their little feet steadily planted on the ground; toes scrunched in anticipation for the big lift off. Whether used to express excitement, as a take-off as they pretend to fly or to reach an object above their level of sight, jumping is a fundamental skill that is an essential part of a child’s development.

Children perform many large, whole-body movements, progressively increasing in difficulty, as they move through their different developmental phases. These are referred to as gross motor skills and are of great importance as we perform them throughout our daily lives. Why are these skills necessary you may ask? Well, think of these skills as the foundation on which all other abilities are developed from. Jumping is an essential part of gross motor development and here’s why.

Why is jumping important for your little one?

Jumping is a locomotor skill and therefore is necessary for a child to be able to move their body from one position to the next. This skill may seem simple but its effects on the body are more advantageous than you may expect.

The importance of Jumping

Muscle strength

Firstly, jumping is a fundamental gross motor skill which refers to a child making use of large muscle groups as they perform this whole-body movement. This allows for the consistent use of the legs through an explosive movement and ultimately gives rise to stronger muscles, specifically the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes.

Let’s think of the body as a plane, perfectly crafted and engineered to perform a specific task. The calves are the wheels, providing stability on the takeoff and a smooth landing. The quadriceps, otherwise known as the thigh muscles, are the wings in which the fuel is stored, providing the necessary power and strength to leave the ground with force. The core is the pilot in control of the height of the plane as it leaves the ground and responsible for ensuring that the aircraft is stabilized as it comes into contact with the ground.

All of these anatomical components work in unison, creating a motion that is fundamental to development.

Motor planning

Have you ever had to perform an activity that you have never completed before? Watching the demonstration, carefully ensuring that you execute the movements in the correct sequence to produce the desired outcome with the correct timing and control. Then you have experienced what is referred to as motor planning.

Jumping involves a combination of bodily positions that need to be sequenced correctly to perform the movement in its entirety. By learning to time their positions of the jump correctly and in the necessary order to produce the optimal result, they are ultimately improving their ability to sequence movements faster and this can be applied in many different circumstances.

Proprioception

Jumping contributes to the development of proprioception. Proprioception is the sense that gives you the subconscious knowledge on how to hold a balloon without popping it, the force needed to push a heavy object or how tightly to squeeze when giving a hug. This is all made possible by receptors that are located in the joints and muscles, stimulated by pressure and movements.

Proprioception is the ability of an individual to be aware and have a sense of their position in space and the way in which their body is moving. It is present in every muscle of your body and when absent, can lead to the inability to move without having to consciously think about your next step. As jumping incorporates pressure on the bones and joints as well as large movements, specifically of the legs, it is an essential part of the development of proprioception.

Not only is it an addition to physical development but it also greatly increases the body’s knowledge on how to subconsciously determine the height needed to jump over different objects and the force needed to generate enough power to overcome these obstacles.

Bone strength

There has been an association between weight-bearing movements such as running and jumping at a young age and the bone strength of the child as they develop into an adolescent. When a child performs a movement, specifically one that places a large amount of force on the bones, it results in the bones increasing in their width and thickness. This therefore creates a larger surface area and a greater density to absorb the force of a movement on impact.

A study was conducted on the effect of jumping on the bones of a child and yielded results that children who jumped daily for just eight months, constructed 3.2% more bone mass, specifically in their hips. This is a single example of how high-impact activities can be a beneficial addition to a child’s development.

Guidelines

Jumping is a movement that takes time to develop and occurs in a step-by-step progressive manner and as each child is unique, their timeline for acquiring and perfecting their milestones are individualized.

Below is a guideline on the age at which a child is expected to reach their jumping milestones.

  • Jumping forward without falling: 23-24 months
  • Jumping vertically upwards with their feet together: 25 months
  • Jumping down a step with two feet, landing on two feet: 32 months
  • Jumping over an object: 34 months

Steps to success

  1. Demonstrate the jump with short cues as children learn easier when they are able to witness the instruction in practice.
  2. Begin the jump by over-emphasizing bending the knees which can be done by lowering onto your haunches. On the count of three, jump up as high as you can, once again over-emphasizing the height of the jump. 
  3. Children learn best when they are having fun and therefore, creating an interesting, visually aesthetic environment to learn a skill in, will encourage them to participate in an activity. For example, place colour balls or even balloons above their eye level and just out of reach, encouraging them to jump up and grab the objects.  Many children begin by jumping with one foot leaving the floor instead of both which is a normal phase of development. 
  4. Create a jumping obstacle course with household items such as printed footprints, broomsticks, rolled up blankets, tape placed in lines on the floor and even pool noodles. Jumping onto the footprints or from one line of tape to another will encourage jumping forwards.  By using a broomstick, this will allow your child to begin jumping over objects with a one-footed take off eventually progressing to using both feet.  The blanket and pool noodle will aid in increasing the height of their jump. 
  5. Schedule a session with Kinderkineticists at Edukinetics to assess and aid your child’s developmental milestones.

Bibliography

  • VCU, C. H. o. R. a., 2022. Gross motor skills: birth to 5 years. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.chrichmond.org/services/therapy-services/developmental-milestones/gross-motor-skills-birth-to-5-years
    [Accessed 25 June 2022].
  • BabySparks, 2018. Jumping: A Significant Gross Motor Skill. [Online]
    Available at: https://babysparks.com/2018/02/28/jumping-a-significant-gross-motor-skill/
    [Accessed 25 June 2022].
  • Sense, K., n.d. Gross Motor Activities. [Online]
    Available at: https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/gross-motor-skills/gross-motor-activities/
    [Accessed 25 June 2022].
  • Kids, T. f., n.d. Jumping milestones for children 18 months to 5+ years. [Online]
    Available at: https://therapiesforkids.com.au/jumping-milestones-for-children-18-months-to-5-years/
    [Accessed 25 June 2022].
  • Brennan, D., 2021. What Is Proprioception?. WebMd, 27 November .
  • Evans, C., n.d. My First Five Years. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.mffy.com/blog/swinging-spinning-and-rocking-developing-sense-of-movement-and-body-position
    [Accessed 25 June 2022].
  • Manchester Metropolitan University. “Early walking in toddlers linked to stronger bones.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 May 2016.