How Animal Actions Can Help Improve Motor Skills

This early intervention activity targets so many skills, including language skills, cognitive skills, executive functioning skills, social skills, and motor skills. In this post, I’m going to primarily focus on motor skills. However, if you’re interested in learning more about how to target skills, you can get the full tutorial below.

The two areas of motor skills that I’ll focus on are gross motor skills and perceptual motor skills. Gross motor skills are skills that involve the large muscles of the body. Perceptual motor skills are how we coordinate our senses and motor skills to interact with the environment. 

Improving Gross Motor Skills

This activity is all about gross motor skills. The whole point is to move your body. Think of all the different muscles that a child uses as they leap like a frog, gallop like a horse, or climb like a monkey. It’s important for kids to have a lot of movement to develop their muscles and coordination.

If your main goal is to work on gross motor skills, think about the specific movements your child needs to work on. Then find ways to incorporate those movements into an animal action. The animal actions are just a tool to make it more fun and interactive so it doesn’t feel like therapy.

For kids who are not yet engaging in a lot of back and forth interactions, you can start by just labeling the actions that they’re already doing. This connects the ideas to the action. So, if your child is spinning, you could say something like “you’re spinning like a dolphin” and show a picture. Kids at these developmental levels (FDLs 1-4) are not quite ready for organized games. That comes a little later.

For kids that are ready for games, turn taking, and following directions you can take turns drawing a card and acting like that animal. If you don’t already have some animal action cards, you can get them in the full tutorial.

Here are some examples of animal actions you can do:

  • jump like a frog
  • slither like a snake
  • roll like a pig in the mud
  • climb like a monkey
  • stomp like an elephant
  • waddle like a penguin
  • walk like a crab
  • spring like a cheetah
  • move slow like a turtle
  • balance like a flamingo
  • spin like a dolphin
  • bounce like a rabbit
  • shake like a dog
  • swim like a fish
  • leap like a gazelle

Perceptual Motor Skills

There are different areas of development within perceptual motor skills. The ones I’m going to focus on are

  • bilateral coordination (using both sides of the body together in one activity)
  • body awareness (knowing body parts and where they are in a defined space)
  • motor planning (being able to perform a sequence of movements to complete a task.)

Bilateral Coordination

You may find that you will naturally incorporate bilateral coordination into this activity. If you’re wanting to intentionally focus on bilateral coordination, then you can think about the different movements that involve both sides of the body and then get creative in what animal might do an action like that. Your kids won’t even know that’s what you’re working on.

Here are some examples:

  • Jump with two feet like a kangaroo
  • Leap like a frog on a lily pad (crouch down to the ground an leap from pillow to pillow)
  • Gallop around the table like a horse
  •  Swing your arms back and forth like an ape
  • Do a jumping jack like a starfish

Body Awareness

Talk about your body as you do this activity to bring greater body awareness. Make comparisons, for example, a dog has 4 legs, how many legs do you have? Asking questions and having a conversation will be for kids at FDLs 4-6. For kids that are not engaging in a lot of back and forth interactions, just label and model the language for them.

To bring more body awareness, when you give an instruction, focus on a specific body part. Here are some examples:

  • Kick your leg like a horse
  • Thump your chest like a gorilla
  • Turn your head like an owl
  • Spread your arms out like an eagle
  • Shrug your shoulders like a turtle in his shell
  • Clap your hands like a seal

Motor Planning

Motor planning is just a natural part of this activity as your child decides how he thinks each animal would move and then coordinating his body to move in that way.

If you want an extra activity that will help with motor planning, you can create an obstacle course. Throughout the obstacle course you can add animal actions into it. Here are some examples:

  • Climb up the stairs like a mountain goat
  • Slither across the kitchen like a snake in the desert
  • Burrow through a pile of pillows like a rabbit
  • Do a trick like a dolphin
  • Walk across a balance beam like a monkey in a tree

I hope you’ll get creative and have fun with this activity. You can make it as simple or elaborate as you want! The best thing is that you can change it up as much as you and your child want to while working on so many different developmental skills.

This activity is great for kids at an FDL of: 1-6

The Functional Developmental Levels (FDL) are based on The PLAY Project. If you would like to learn more about The PLAY Project, please visit

  • FDL 1: Self Regulation & Shared Attention
  • FDL 2: Engagement & Relating
  • FDL 3: Intentionality & Two-Way Communication
  • FDL 4: Social Problem-Solving & Mood Regulation
  • FDL 5: Creating Symbols & Using Words & Ideas
  • FDL 6: Emotional Thinking, Logic & Sense of Reality

This activity is great for kids primarily participating in stages: 1-6

The Stages of Play come from Parten’s Stages of Social Play.

  • Stage 1: Unoccupied Play
  • Stage 2: Solitary Play
  • Stage 3: Onlooker Play
  • Stage 4: Parallel Play
  • Stage 5: Associative Play
  • Stage 6: Cooperative Play

This activity includes: auditory, vestibular, proprioception

Our senses include more than the usual 5 senses. Some kids may seek certain types of sensory input and/or avoid other types.

  • Visual: Sight
  • Auditory: Sound
  • Olfactory: Smell
  • Oral: Taste (Gustatory) and using the mouth to speak, make sounds, eat, chew, drink, etc.
  • Tactile: Touch
  • Vestibular: How we process information about movement, gravity, and balance. We receive this information through the inner ear.
  • Proprioceptive: How we process information about body position and body parts. We receive this information through our muscles, ligaments, and joints.

This activity is good for targeting the following developmental skills: communication, cognitive, executive functioning, motor, social

These are the main areas of child development addressed in the Early Intervention Tutorials

  • Communication: receptive language, expressive language, listening, two-way communication
  • Cognitive skills: cause & effect, literacy, math, science, problem solving, perception and concept
  • Executive functioning: emotional control, flexibility, perseverance, self-monitoring, organization, planning, response inhibition, attention, task initiation, time management, working memory
  • Motor skills: fine motor, gross motor, perceptual motor
  • Social-emotional skills: peer interaction, self concept & social role, pretend play, behavior, group activities
  • Adaptive skills: self-care, personal responsibility



  • Print the Animal Action Cards
  • Cut out the cards
  • Laminate (optional)
  • Take turns picking a card and acting out the different animal actions

Extra Tips & Ideas

  • Practice counting by doing each action 10 times
  • Use the cards for a game of charades
  • Spread the cards all around the room. Act out one of the cards and have your child run and find the matching card. Act it out together
  • Print two copies of the cards and play a game of memory. When you find a match, you have to act out the card
  • Add the cards to an obstacle course
  • Get a wooden puzzle, put the board on one side of the room and the pieces on the other side of the room. Have the child act out one of the animal action cards as he goes to get one puzzle piece. Repeat.
  • Play Stop and Go. Stand at the opposite side of the room (or yard) as your child. Have him move towards you acting out the card as you say stop and go.

Get The Full Tutorial

To gain full access to this tutorial, you can purchase it by clicking add to cart.


This tutorial includes:

  • A video tutorial
  • Written instructions
  • Printable lesson plan
  • How to adapt to different stages of play
  • How to build on different developmental skills

Adapting to Different Stages of Play

Depending on a child’s stage of development, you’ll want to adapt this activity based on goals that would be appropriate for the child’s growth.


The stages of play are:

  • Stage 1: Unoccupied Play
  • Stage 2: Solitary Play
  • Stage 3: Onlooker Play
  • Stage 4: Parallel Play
  • Stage 5: Associative Play
  • Stage 6: Cooperative Play

I’ll share ideas on how to do this in the Early Intervention Tutorials. You can purchase the full activity by going to the store.

Developmental Skills

In this section, I’ll identify which areas of development this activity targets. I’ll also give some pointers on how to specifically target each area. You can purchase this tutorial in the store.


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