Dough Gym Week – Gross Motor Physical Development

abc doesBoys Learning, Dough Gym, Environment, Mark Making22 Comments

Even though it is called ‘Dough Gym’, it is about much more than the Dough.

Before we get onto palm grips and pencils, we need to consider the other essential elements that children need to have to enable them to be successful mark makers and writers. These are the things that children who find the early stages mark making easy, learn quickly.


the development of their muscles, children also need to develop their sense of
proprioception and balance.

Proprioception is the brain using all sorts of
information from different parts of the body to help it to move effectively
within its given space. An essential part of this movement is being able to
maintain balance whilst still and in motion.

physical movements of the arms and upper body shift the centre of balance and
also continually challenge the child’s sense of proprioception sometimes
resulting in a child falling over or tripping over their own feet.

Thorpedene Primary School

Children need lots of practise at moving around to help this development. One of the most valuable things you can do during Dough Gym to help with this is give them plenty of space.

IMG_2480Saint Andrew’s Primary School

Another is to take away the chairs. Children do not need to sit down when they are at the malleable materials table. In fact it can be more detrimental to their development if they do.

During a session of Dough Gym you might use some large gross motor arm movements, this will impact on balance and proprioception as well as working the upper body muscles.

Whilst you are working out, children will also be developing hand/eye coordination and their low load control.

Low load control (simply) is your shoulders ability to support your arm and hand as you write. When you come to writ something you don’t slap your hand down like a piece of meat and then drag it along the page. As you write your hand should be gliding (swan like!). It is your shoulder and upper arm that are supporting you in achieving this.

DSC04318Moseley Primary School

Children need to do lots of shoulder rotating and dough lifting exercises to become really proficient at this.

Once you have identified that you need to  develop children’s low load control  and their sense of balance and proprioception then it really helps if outside of the Dough Gym sessions, they have access to fixed or permanent structures in our environment to support this movement as
well as enhancements and activities to support it.

activities that you plan should involve the use of the shoulder pivot on both
horizontal and vertical surfaces.  Encourage the children to
reach and stretch as well as use the full circular motion of their shoulder
joint in lots of areas of your environment indoor and out.

Basic Principle of Dough Gym:

‘Work their bendy bits biggest to smallest!’

children use their body to aid their early mark making and then writing is by
using a sequence of muscle movements. Which muscles they use depend on which
stage of development they are at.

Most children follow the same sequence of
development, so once you are aware of it, you can create an appropriate environment to support and extend
their stage of development.

It is all about the pivot.

Penguin Pre-School

Where your children ‘pivot’ from will let you know where they are up to in their physical mark making development. There is an intrinsic link between pivot and grip that we will explore more later.

(‘Pivot and Grip’ sounds like a new ITV drama about a pair of undercover pole dancing detectives. A bit like Rosemary and Thyme, but with an edge!)

Most mark makers start here…


Pivot: Shoulder

Grip: Palm or Palmar or Palmar Supinate (it’s all the same thing really!)

the early stages of development (babies), when children are learning to support their
head, reach, grasp, and walk. They are using groups of muscles in their pelvis,
back, shoulders, arms and neck. It is these upper body muscle groups that
children use in the very emergent stages of mark making.

will have already developed a grasp that allows them to hold something tight
without dropping it. This grasp is formed by wrapping the fingers around the
object and making a fist with the object held in the middle. This is known as a
‘palmer supinate grasp’, (‘palmer’ from the use of the palm, ‘supinate’ meaning
turning the palm upwards and ‘grasp’ meaning grip) and is the grip that children
most commonly employ in early mark making.

P1205610The Arches Primary School

this stage in their development, the muscles of their upper body that are the
most well developed are the neck, chest and back. It is these muscles that have
the most strength, so it is these muscles that are used to help the hand to
make those first emergent marks.

at this stage the child will have a fairly stiff wrist and a straight elbow
with most of the movement coming from the shoulder.

type of mark that a child at this stage of development can make will be at the
maximum range, so they are likely to be long and straight or large and circular
as their range of movement is restricted to the strongest muscle group they
have available.

part of your assessment for Dough Gym you are looking for children who are
pivoting from the shoulder with a palmer supinate grasp.

For these children Dough Gym is about large gross motor movements, consolidating that range of movement and moving onto the next pivot (bendy bit).


Pivot: Elbow (emergent or advanced)

Grip: Palm

this stage in development the shoulder becomes more of a support and the elbow
start to do most of the work.

There are usually two noticeable stages in the
elbow pivot. The first is the ‘emergent’ stage where the elbow bends allowing
for a greater range of movement, but the shoulder is still the main ‘power’ in
moving the arm backwards and forwards. This looks like a sawing motion where
the arm tends to move in straight lines across the body or from front to back.


a child becomes more proficient in their elbow pivot then they begin to use the
muscles in their upper and lower arm to swing their arm in and out from their
body in a circular action. This is an ‘advanced’ elbow pivot (think stirring in a pot or creating a figure eight). T
his significantly increases the range of

when the elbow pivot is developing, the wrist stays quite stiff and the grip is
still palmer supinate.

Dough Gym for these children is about really employing the elbow in its full range of movement as well as continuing with shoulder exercises and strengthening the wrist and hand.


Pivot: Wrist

Grip: Usually Palm, but probably about to change, so keep a look out!

As the pivot moves to the wrist, the elbow often tucks into the side of the body and
the shoulder movement becomes minimal. Low load control is definitely in play.

the time that children reach the wrist pivot stage in their lower arms, upper arms and shoulders are all now well developed and their
overall movement and balance tends to be far more fluid than it was when they
first started out on this journey of development.

wrist pivot stage is the one that children tend to stick with for the least
amount of time before their pivot shifts again.

with a wrist pivot comes a change in a child’s grip from palmer supinate to
digital pronate. (digit meaning finger and pronate meaning to grasp with the
palm turned down).

It usually looks like a version of this.


a child adopts a digital pronate grip they bend their wrist to nearly 45
degrees, grip their mark making implement with three fingers and use their
first finger to manipulate the end of it.

is a clear sign that their stage of fine motor manipulation in moving forward
and also an indicator that we need to be looking out for and encouraging he
next stage of development both in pivot and grip.

Dough Gym for these children had lots of much smaller movements that build strength in the wrists as well encourage rotation.


The journey through the pivots doesn’t stop here, it keeps on moving across the hands, knuckles and fingers. But we will have a look at that in more depth tomorrow when we look at fine motor development.

Hopefully you will be beginning to see how and why Dough Gym is so closely linked to physical development and is dependent on accurate and regular assessment. Not just slapping and poking!

Outside of Dough Gym sessions, it is worth looking again at your Malleable Materials area. It isn’t just a ‘dough table’, because it should contain a range of materials that have been put there because their malleability is linked to your assessment of children’s development.

You can take away the chairs tomorrow – seriously they don’t need them!

You can ask yourself the question ‘If I had to give my Malleable Materials area a gender, what gender would I give it?’


How many children are passing it by because of the way that the area is dressed rather than stopping by because of enhancements that are linked to their interests?

Who are the children who often struggle with gross motor dexterity and development? Is it those same children who pop into your dough area to make a cup cake or mould a flower, or are they haring round outside on a scooter at ninety miles an hour? I wonder why?!

Tomorrow we will have a look at the fine motor aspect of Dough Gym and really get a grip! (Do you see what I did there?)








22 Comments on “Dough Gym Week – Gross Motor Physical Development”

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  9. Hi I am writing my dissertation at the moment and wondered if you could offer any research you base dough gym on. I know it is brilliant and works and the principles of developing those muscles is accurate and true but I urgently need to find some theory to back it up in the next few days. Fab site.
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  10. I have recently discovered dough disco on YouTube. It’s great giving the children their own dough and watching them as they copy her crazy moves .

  11. Great ideas thank you – how. Would you rate the effectiveness of Write Dance for gross motor development?

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  12. Thank you I have learned so much!
    Chairs away tomorrow
    Outside large movements
    Gonna be fun

  13. Looking forward to day three of Dough Gym!
    Like the above photo, our outdoor area is often covered in water and bubbles created by groups of energetic sweepers, scrubbers, painters and hosepipe squirters!
    I agree this aids development but its actually lots of FUN too… 😉

  14. This is so incredibly helpful – thank you, thank you, thank you!
    I’m struggling to get my boys to engage with the malleable materials and I’m sure that your Dough Gym week will give us all a much more enthusiastic approach towards it.

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