Gross motor skills are one of the most important skills for a baby to learn as they lay a foundation for the further development of more intricate abilities as a child gets older.
Simply put, gross motor abilities involve large muscle groups that help a baby lift her head, sit up, crawl, and walk. For toddlers, this also includes the abilities such as running, jumping, climbing up and down the stairs, and throwing and catching objects.
Without them, it would be difficult to improve our fine motor skills, which involve the muscles in the fingers and hands, and allow us to perform more complex tasks such as the pincer grip, writing, and typing.
Although babies have a way of learning these skills almost instinctively, it doesn’t hurt to read up on all the activities you can incorporate on a daily basis to help your little one develop into a happy and energetic child.
What Are Gross Motor Skills?
The definition of gross motor skills is simple – any skill that requires using the large muscles of the body, including the muscles of the legs, arms, and core muscles qualifies as a gross motor skill. Without them, going about our everyday life and performing tasks would be very difficult.
Examples of gross motor skills include simple activities such as:
- picking up and lifting objects;
- standing up;
These skills can also be grouped into several categories:
- Manipulative skills – the ability to move an item, like a ball;
- Locomotor skills – important abilities that allow the child to walk or run from point A to point B;
- Stability skills – the ability of the child to transfer their weight and achieve balance
Gross motor abilities are crucial to child development. Your little one will need them to learn how to sit up, crawl, stand up, and walk, which are all important developmental milestones.
The Difference Between Fine And Gross Motor Skills
While gross motor activities are all about working and developing large muscle groups, fine motor skills are concerned with much smaller muscles.
They’re responsible for the development of the muscles in the wrist and the hand, including the fingers.
Good gross motor development is a cornerstone of the improvement of fine motor skills.
For example, picking up a toothbrush requires gross motor movement, but for a child to properly hold and maneuver it in their hand, they’ll need fine motor skills. So the two are deeply intertwined.
Other fine motor abilities include:
- using a pair of scissors;
- using a pencil or a pen to write or draw;
- tying shoelaces;
- buttoning or zipping up;
- turning a page.
All in all, a child needs to successfully master skills in both groups to develop at a healthy pace.
Gross Motor Milestones By Age
Even though every child is unique and might develop faster or slower than their peers, there is a certain time frame during which the caregivers should be able to observe and encourage the development of important gross motor milestones.
Babies (0-12 months)
Here are some of the major gross motor milestones for babies until 12 months of age:
- 3-4 months: lifting their head while lying on their tummy;
- 6 months: rolling over from tummy to back and the other way around and can sit when supported;
- 6-12 months: sitting unassisted; starts crawling and/or cruising; pulling up into a standing position.
Around a child’s 1st birthday, regardless of whether she’s crawling or not, she should be showing an interest in moving on her own and might even start taking her very first steps while holding your hands.
Toddlers (12-24 months)
Here are some of the major milestones for toddlers between the age of 12 and 24 months:
- walking unassisted (usually by 18 months);
- running and jumping (around 24 months);
- walking up and down steps with assistance;
- climbing on furniture unassisted;
- bending down to lift items from the floor without falling;
- throwing an object, such as a ball.
Preschoolers (3+ years)
Older toddlers between the ages of 3 and 4 are ready to start taking on more challenging physical activities, such as:
- being able to walk on tiptoes;
- walking up and down steps without assistance;
- Attempting to stand on one leg and being able to do so for a few seconds (after the age of 4);
- riding a trike;
- kicking a ball;
- walking on a line;
- climbing on a jungle gym;
- jumping in one place, then moving onto jumping over objects at the age of 4.
A child’s physical abilities only grow after the age of 5, and here are some of the milestones you’ll be able to observe between the ages of 5 and 6:
- can walk backward;
- able to walk up a staircase while holding an item;
- can run on their toes;
- can learn how to jump rope;
- can learn how to ride a skateboard.
Consequences Of Poor Motor Skill Development
The ability to jump, run, climb, and take part in play alongside their peers is very important for kids, especially in early childhood.
If a child’s gross motor abilities don’t develop well, this could lead to many difficult consequences.
Delayed development of muscles from an early age can cause delays in learning how to play and poor development of the senses.
As the baby grows into a toddler, she might find it difficult to play alongside her peers, which in turn has a negative effect on her social skills. The lack of interaction with other young children can cause poor self-esteem and lack of confidence in social settings.
At preschool, she might be hesitant to participate in sports or other activities where movement is key, either due to low self-esteem or because she doesn’t know how to use the equipment.
Because gross motor development ties into other skills, such as strength, coordination, and balance, their importance should not be underestimated, especially when a child starts school.
Kids with poor motor skills can be very aware that they’re not as capable as some of the other kids their age and don’t be surprised if your kiddo tries to hide it.
Likewise, they might act like they’re not interested in certain activities when in fact they’re scared everyone will notice they can’t do it.
It’s also possible for a child to deliberately mess up during an activity and play it off as trying to be funny to avoid someone else noticing that they’re actually struggling.
That being said, all kids develop at their own pace, and some are simply more athletic than others.
Your child might develop on their own timeline and there’s no reason to worry – unless your child is continuously falling behind these developmental milestones.
Trust your observations (and instinct) and pay a visit to your pediatrician if you feel concerned.
They’ll be able to examine your situation closely and let you know if your child needs occupational therapy to develop motor skills.
How To Improve A Child’s Gross Motor Skills
When it comes to fine motor abilities, there’s a seemingly infinite amount of toys that promise to develop the tiny muscles in your kiddo’s hands and wrists.
Gross motor development can be just as fun. And because it involves large body movements, these activities are quite physical.
Activities for babies (0-12 months)
One of the key physical activities for babies is tummy time. It’s recommended to start as soon as possible, even if your baby takes some time to adjust to the activity.
Place the baby with her belly facing down on a flat surface and entertain her with toys to make the activity more fun.
You can start off with only a few minutes each day and then gradually increase the amount of tummy time over time.
This activity is very important to strengthen the muscles in your baby’s back and neck. It also paves the way toward crawling and walking. For example, if your baby stops rolling over, this might be a sign to add more tummy exercise into your schedule.
After the baby learns how to crawl or move around on her own (some babies skip the crawling stage altogether), it’s important to give her space to roam freely.
Although a baby jumper is a lot of fun, your baby still won’t be using all of her muscles because she is sitting down.
A good way to encourage free play is to find a bit of clear floor space in your home, place a couple of toys on the floor, and allow your baby to have fun without the constraints of a seat.
To encourage crawling or walking, grab her favorite toy, and move away slightly so she’ll need to use her motor skills to make her way to you.
For the development of the muscles in your baby’s hands, look out for a time when she’s holding a toy in her hands and try to slowly tug it out of her grasp, like the baby version of a tug of war.
Sitting up is another simple yet important activity for babies after they learn how to hold their head up.
You can prop the baby up against a few pillowcases for a few minutes every day but make sure never to leave her unattended in this position.
As she grows and develops more balance, you can take the pillows out of the equation and simply place your hand behind her back as she balances in a sitting position.
Standing up is also an important gross motor milestone and the majority of babies show an interest in standing up around 9 months of age.
Most babies start standing up in their crib by pulling themselves up with the help of the railing, but you can encourage standing up, too.
One way of doing this is to take a few toys and put them toward the edge of the couch cushions, where the baby can see them. She’ll become curious and pull up to grab them.
Activities for toddlers (12+ months)
Once your baby turns one year old, she’s officially entered the toddler territory.
Now, your little tot is very interested in walking and you should provide ample opportunity for her to practice her little legs – and not just at home.
Go for a walk around the block or the park – the change of scenery will be fun and encourage her to move more.
You might also want to invest in a sandbox for your backyard unless you already have one. Playing in the sand is great for developing large muscles because there’s a lot of moving around, scooping, and lifting.
Even common household activities such as tidying up can be beneficial to strengthening your tot’s muscles and improving her balance.
As she picks up her toys and puts them back, she’s practicing how to properly transfer her weight while lowering down and standing up.
Climbing up and down the stairs is another excellent activity – just make sure it’s under your supervision.
Activities for preschoolers (3+ years)
Although the ages of preschoolers can vary, most kids around the age of 3 are ready for preschool. At this point, they have advanced motor control and can participate in more challenging physical activities.
Now is the time to introduce them to a tricycle and allow them to explore a jungle gym at your local park. Your 3-year-old can also learn how to jump rope, play hopscotch, and move through an obstacle course.
As a rainy day activity, you can glue some tape to the floor and challenge your preschooler to try to walk the line without “falling,” which will improve balance skills and body awareness.
Now that you understand the definition of gross motor skills, you can see why giving your child plenty of opportunities where she can work on them is really important for her future development.
They’re the foundation to other, more complex developmental milestones and shouldn’t be ignored.
After all, a delay in motor skills can become pretty troublesome once your baby grows up, starts school, and begins suffering from poor self-confidence because she can’t participate in physical activities as well as her peers.
As always, if you believe your child is falling behind with some of these milestones, don’t be afraid to reach out to a pediatric medical professional who’ll be able to give you more insight into your child’s condition and, if needed, refer you to an occupational therapist.
I hope you found my gross motor skills examples useful and that you’ll find a way to incorporate these activities in your little one’s playtime!
This post contains affiliate links. Please see our full disclosure for more info.