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
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.
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.
Inspire playtime and motor skills! Use the different heights of the stepping stones and logs to teach your child balance and coordination safely.
Encourage fine motor development while your child creatively builds with their hands.
Enhance fine motor skills through engaging paper-cutting and taping activities.
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.
Affiliate Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. We only recommend items we truly believe in based upon in-depth research, reviews, and/or personal experience. Thank you for your ongoing support to keep this website thriving for kids!
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.