What is gross motor skills?
For most, we use our gross motor functions daily while not thinking much of it, like sitting up to get out of bed in the morning.
For others, this very task of sitting up may be a struggle if you are a person with motor challenges.
Many kids today are experiencing delays in developing their gross motor skills which are affecting their ability to move in some shape or form.
With that said, let’s explore gross motor functions further:
- What does it mean?
- What are some examples?
- How does gross motor differ from fine motor?
- What are the signs of developmental delays?
- And MORE…
Let’s dive in.
What Is Gross Motor Skills?
A motor skill is simply an action using your muscles.
Gross motor skills are the larger movements your body makes.
It is your ability to create body movement in your arms, legs, and torso.
Another way to visually understand gross motor functions is when your body makes bigger movements like:
- Sitting up
- Rolling over
When your body uses the larger and stronger muscles of the body, you are developing your gross motor functions.
In fact, there are 3 different types of gross motor movements to know.
3 Types of Gross Motor Movements
Cait Parr (PT, DPT) at NAPA Center shares the following types of gross motor movements (3):
1. Locomotion, means movement!
Anything a child does to get from one spot to another is locomotion. Examples of gross motor skills in the locomotion category can include rolling, belly crawling, crawling on hands and knees, scooting, walking, running, climbing, leaping, jumping, and hopping.
2. Stationary skills, movement in a stationary place.
Gross motor skills that are stationary include head control, sitting balance, standing on one or both legs, rising, falling, bending, stretching, pushing, pulling, swinging, swaying, twisting, and turning.
3. Manipulation, moving objects in a variety of ways.
Think about all the things a child can do with a ball (roll, throw, catch, kick, stop, or bat a ball). All of these actions are manipulative gross motor skills.
Now that you are familiar with gross motor skills and the types of movements, let’s explore another set of motor functions, fine motor skills.
►►Click here for an engaging activity to stimulate motor skills ◄◄
What Is Fine Motor Skills?
Fine motor skills are the smaller movements your body makes.
It is your ability to create body movement in your fingers, toes, wrists, lips, and tongue.
To visually comprehend fine motor skills, picture yourself doing any of these things:
- Picking up a small object
- Wiggling your toes
- Holding a spoon
- Using your lips or tongue to taste food
When your body uses the smaller muscles of the body, you are developing your fine gross motor functions.
What Motor Skills Develops First?
In any area of your little one’s body, while growing, gross motor functions develop before fine motor functions.
For instance, an infant will start to control their arms before their hands, then their hands before their fingers.
After birth, an infant’s brain is not mature enough to develop skilled body movement. So the development begins first at the head and moves down the body.
The most noticeable movements are initially in the face (mouth, lips, and tongue).
Then, your baby learns to control their neck before their shoulders and their shoulders before their back. The rest of the movements follow over time.
But what if you notice your child’s development is delayed or something just doesn’t seem right?
Let’s get into developmental milestones and what you need to look for.
Developmental Milestones Defined
You may be wondering, what are developmental milestones?
Developmental milestones are checkpoints to look for while your child is developing to determine what they are able to accomplish during that point in time during their growth and development.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a ‘Milestone Checklist’ outlining specific milestones a child should be doing at their age which we will cover next.
Keep in mind that children develop at their own pace.
Temporary delays should not cause you to worry.
However, if your child is experiencing ongoing delays to prevent them from meeting crucial developmental milestones, then this is something your pediatrician helps you determine as well as the next steps to take.
So what signs do you need to look for?
Signs of Developmental Delays (Ages 0 to 5)
If your child is showing signs that they are unable to do some or all in the following areas, it may mean your child has delays in their ability to develop their gross motor functions.
Meaning, your child may experience difficulty in making smaller or larger movements.
With that said, here are movement milestones to keep in mind by age:
0 to 12 Months…
- Begins to smile
- Turns head towards sound
- Follows things with eyes
- Begins to recognize people
- Can hold head up
- Begins to push up when lying on tummy
- Reaches for toy
- Can hold a toy
- Brings hands to mouth
- Holds head steady, unsupported
- Begins to know familiar faces and recognizes strangers
- Responds to name
- Rolls over in both directions
- Begins to sit without support
- When standing, support weight on legs and might bounce
- Begins to rock back and forth (showing signs ready to crawl)
- Afraid of strangers
- Understands “no”
- Copies sounds and gestures of others
- Points at things with finger
- Plays peek-a-book
- Stands with support or holding onto something
- Pulls to stand
- Sits with no support
- Being able to crawl forward on the belly by using the arms to pull and push with the legs
- Sitting up independently without assistance
- Holding onto to furniture to push up and stand
- Able to stand without support for short periods of time
- Taking a few steps independently or walking
- Can go from sitting to crawling without support
- Drink from a cup or eat from a spoon
- Pulls toys while walking
- Points at objects
- Walk independently
- May begin to run
- Kick a ball
- Holding onto the railing while going up or downstairs
- Stands on tiptoes
- Starts copying others words and movements
- Begin to say sentences in two to four words
- Build with blocks
- Able to follow simple instructions
- Able to dress and undress self
- Carries on a conversation in a couple of sentences
- Shows a range of emotions; affection towards others and concern when someone is crying
- Follow instructions
- Can name most familiar things
- Understands “his”, “hers”, “mine”
- Playing make-believe with toys
- Turn pages in a book
- May get agitated with major changes in routine
- Count to 10 or more objects
- Shows interest in make-believe or games
- Cooperates with other children
- Can walk forwards and backward
- Speaks clearly
- Can jump in place
- Pedal a tricycle easily
- Stand on one foot for longer than 9 seconds
- Walks up and down stairs independently
- Jumping forward ten times without falling
- Kicking a ball
- Hop or skip
- Is aware of gender
- Can tell what is make-believe and what is real
- Can print some letters or numbers
- Knows about things used daily such as money or food
- Can use the toilet independently
- Swings and climbs
Kids develop at their own pace. Some, are faster than others and vice versa.
When crucial milestones are not being met over time, that is when further action may be taken by a pediatrician or medical professional to determine if there is an underlying condition.
What Types of Conditions have Motor Delays?
If you have a child or someone you know with a neurological disorder like Cerebral Palsy you may be all too familiar with motor delays.
Motor delays that impact muscle movement may result from the following conditions or disorders that affect the muscles such as:
- Brain injury or concussions
- Cerebral palsy
- Epilepsy and seizures
- Learning and developmental disorders like ADHD or visual impairment
- Genetic conditions like Down Syndrome
- Muscular dystrophy
If a child has a developmental delay, it is best to get help as soon as possible.
Early identification and intervention can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn new skills, as well as reduce the need for costly interventions over time (1).
If You’re Concerned
Should you be concerned about your child’s development or motor functions it is best to follow up with your pediatrician quickly.
Your child’s pediatrician may recommend exercises or physical therapy to develop coordination and muscle strength.
If there is another underlying condition causing the motor delay, your pediatrician will most likely run further testing or refer your child to see a specialist like a pediatric neurologist.
5 Engaging Kids’ Motor Activities to Try!
If you need some fun kids’ motor skill activities to try, here is what we recommend.
►► View Now: Step-A-Trail Obstacle Course ◄◄
Inspire playtime and motor skills! Use the different heights of the stepping stones and logs to teach your child balance and coordination safely.
►► View Now: Scissor Skills ◄◄
Develop your child’s fine motor skills with this 40-page preschool workbook for kids ages 3 to 5. Practice cutting animals, shapes, and patterns!
►► View Now: Magnetic Tiles ◄◄
Encourage fine motor development while your child creatively builds with their hands.
►► View Now: Melissa & Doug Activity Book Set ◄◄
Enhance fine motor skills through engaging paper-cutting and taping activities.
►► View Now: Pewi Elite Bike Walking Ride On Toy ◄◄
Develop motor skills with support while learning how to walk or ride with confidence.
We want to wrap up by extending our gratitude to thank you for being here!
What are your thoughts, questions, or concerns surrounding the topic of gross motor skills?
Let us know in the comments below. ♥
Was this information helpful to you? If so, you’d make our day by sharing it! 🙂
About the Author
Lindsey is the co-founder of The LENN Foundation and content creator of the Intensive Therapy for Kids blog.
When she isn’t busy playing Godzilla with her son or chasing around her mischievous Rottweiler pup, she loves creating experiences and memories with her loved ones (traveling, watching a good flick, trying new n’ yummy restaurants). Speaking of restaurants, one of her favs is Taco Bell!
Most of all, she is grateful for her supportive circle of family, friends, and to live out her passion for helping kids with Cerebral Palsy (like her sweet nephew Lenny).
If you’re curious about The LENN Foundation, you may see the kids’ helped and feel-good content here. ♥
- Maine Health (2022). Developmental Disorders.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2021). CDC’s Developmental Milestones.
- Cait Parr, PT, DPT (2021). NAPA Center. Gross Motor Development for Infants and Toddlers.
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The contents of the Intensive Therapy for Kids Site, such as text, graphics, images, and other material contained on the Intensive Therapy for Kids Site (“Content”) are for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Marilyn Smith says
Hello Lindsay. Your website is very informative and of course interesting. I think you are doing great as you are getting good responses from your viewers. However, just a few ideas to improve it.I think you need to have decide where you want to place your pics. The third picture I think it would fit better with no editing over it or on the left side. I do not see your about me page. I also think you could be more personal with your audience by sharing some personal stories or experiences with your topic. I wish you every success with your website.
Lindsey Kovach says
Wonderful Marilyn. Thanks for your feedback on our website. I appreciate the insight!
This really is very informative… Everyday one way or the order we tend to create movement in different parts of our body but never knew that each movement has a name. And also the signs on gross motor developmental would be very helpful for nursing mothers. I’m indeed grateful for this article because i really learnt from it.
Lindsey Kovach says
Wonderful! Glad you found the article informative and helpful. Thanks for sharing your feedback.
What a great article for young families to keep track of the childrens development. Sometimes we take this development for granted so it’s good to see it here all in one place for easy reference.
Thank you for your explanation between the differences of the motor functions. There is a lot of discussion at the moment on what can cause delays in a child’s motor functions. Do you feel vaccination is a valid contributor to the childrens development as many other parents and I tend to think?
Lindsey Kovach says
Wonderful, thank you for sharing Bernado and for your feedback! Vaccinations are definitely an important contributor to prevent disease. Having these vaccinations (spread out over a period of time) early on are important.
Hey nice article you have there. Thanks for always considering the kids well-being in your articles. Even as a bachelor I have learnt a whole lot from this article which I will definitely put into action when I become a father. The milestone is indeed something to look for during child’s development. Nevertheless I will surely do well to refer my aunt tonthis article, it will definitely help her, as her child is still at the age of two.
Lindsey Kovach says
Wonderful, thank you. We love to hear how the information can help other families kiddos.
Sheddy Ovb says
Heloo Dear, a big thanks for sharing this insightful post on gross motor skills, definition, signs of developmental delays in children. Gross motor skills are important to enable children to perform every day functions, such as walking and running and playing around. Seeing this article has really thought me a lot, it’s really going to help so many out there. Well done.
Lindsey Kovach says
Thank you so much for your feedback!
Hello there, thanks a lot for sharing this wonderful piece of information here with us. I must say I really did enjoyed going through your article as it contains so much valuable information one needs to be aware of. I think I will be sharing this with a couple of friends just to create awareness. Thanks for sharing this
Lindsey Kovach says
I love to hear that. Thanks for sharing and spreading awareness!
Thanks for your guidelines as our children develop their fine and gross motor skills. While most kids seem to develop along fairly well on course with their abilities to use these motor skills, there is always a chance that there may be problems, and the sooner they are noticed and a corrective route determined, the better for both parent and child. While I didn’t obsess, I did make sure that my youngsters were in the general area of the skill levels for their ages. Most kids are farther along than the majority of the charts indicate, but we as Moms like some reassurance, and your suggestions are good ones to rely on. Sami
Lindsey Kovach says
Thank you for sharing Sami! I’m glad to hear the guidelines we provided were helpful. We appreciate your comment and feedback. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this useful information, this is a head up to the single(s) who come across this review, at least you have given a helpful guideline, with a clear list of the milestones that one should looke out for at each age. Of course, some kids develop faster or slower than others, but now we all know exactly what to expect at each stage of development.
Lindsey Kovach says
Thank you for sharing your feedback and kinds words! So glad you found the information to be a helpful guideline.
Thanks for writing this post. As a father of two young children with one more on the way, this is a great resource to come back to when it comes to noticing development. Thanks for giving a clear list of the milestones that I should be looking for at each age. Of course, some kids develop faster or slower than others, but this is definitely a helpful guideline so that if anything does come up, I can speak with the pediatrician as you recommend. Thanks again!
Lindsey Kovach says
Hi Steve, congratulations with your little one on the way! I’m glad you found this post to be helpful and my goal in writing the post was to create awareness around developmental milestones to keep in mind should concerns arise for someone’s child. Thank you for your feedback.