Gross Motor Skills (Birth To 5 Years) And Activities To Encourage It

Image: Shutterstock


Gross motor skills refer to skills involving the larger muscles of the arms, legs, and torso that enable us to perform different activities such as standing, running, sitting, throwing, catching, and swimming. The beginning of physical movement since birth marks the start of the development of gross motor skills (1). These skills help the child grow into an all-round individual. (1).

In this post, we discuss the types of gross motor skills and factors that can cause developmental delays. We also give you a few activities that can help improve your child’s gross motor skills.

Types Of Motor Skills

Motor skills are classified into gross motor skills and fine motor skills. The development of both skills is essential for daily activities. Gross motor skills involve the larger muscles, while fine motor skills involve the smaller muscles of the hands, fingers, and wrists, helping your child with activities such as writing, grasping, and building LEGO blocks.

Gross motor skills are further divided into:

  • Locomotor skills: These help the body to move from one place to another. Examples include actions such as walking, running, jumping, sliding, and body balancing.
  • Object control skills: These skills allow you to handle and control objects. Examples include actions such as throwing, kicking, and catching.

Development Of Gross Motor Skills In Children

We develop motor skills throughout our lives, but the major developmental milestones are achieved in childhood. The speed at which each child develops gross motor skills may differ, but certain skills are usually developed at certain ages. The following are some gross motor skills development milestones of children in the first five years (2):

Birth to five years

  • Zero to three months: Most babies develop the abilities to raise their head and chest when lying on the stomach, open and shut hands, and bring their hand to mouth.
  • Four months old: Babies begin to roll from back to sides
  • Five months old: Babies begin to roll from back to front.
  • Six months to eight months old: Babies begin to raise their chest and upper abdomen during tummy time, explore things with their hands, and sit on their own.
  • Eight to eleven months old: Babies start crawling around the house.
  • Nine to twelve months old: Babies start reaching out for toys in a sitting position.
  • Eleven to twelve months old: Babies begin to stand and take their first steps.
  • Fifteen months old: develop the skills to climb steps and walk without support.
  • Eighteen months old: Babies learn to run, although they may keep falling often.
  • Two years old: Toddlers develop skills such as kicking and jumping.
  • Three years old: Kids are able to balance the body on one foot for a few seconds. They also learn to catch a ball.
  • Four years old: Children learn to ride a tricycle, hop on one foot, climb well, and do somersaults.
  • Five years old: Children can perform activities such as skipping, skating, and swimming.

Activities To Encourage Development Of Gross Motor Skills

You may help your child develop their motor skills with ease by encouraging them to do the following activities:


1. Alternating the head positions

When babies fall asleep, they sometimes lie down on their sides. Change the sides every day instead of always letting the baby sleep on their back. This helps them raise their heads, strengthens their neck muscles, and prevents flat head (3).

2. Encouraging tummy time

This all-time favorite baby activity helps strengthen the back and neck muscles and encourages babies to balance their body on the upper abdomen. It can also help the babies build their physical strength to crawl, sit, and roll over (4).

3. Making the baby sit

Support the baby while letting the baby learn to sit. Place some toys to make them interested when sitting, and encourage them to explore the toys and things around them.

4. Playing with rattles

Rattles amuse babies and can help in developing and improving hand-eye coordination and perception skills.


5. Dancing

Shaking the body to the rhythm of music is a good gross motor activity. It can help develop body balance and coordination effortlessly and in a fun way (5).

6. Playing with bubbles and balloons

Chasing and popping bubbles or balloons are activities that everyone, especially young children, like. It encourages toddlers to run and jump and develop hand-eye coordination (6).

7. Reaching up high

Place your baby’s favorite toy at a height where they need to work hard to reach. This will encourage the baby to stand and climb and hone their coordination skills.

8. Playing with boxes

Using empty boxes as play objects allows babies to crawl through and climb over the boxes. You can also try to use these boxes to create obstacle routes for your little ones.


9. Having fun with trampolines

The trampoline is great for helping your child jump, roll, and balance while having fun. Supervise children as they play on the trampoline (5).

10. Riding tricycles or scooters

This is one of the favorite activities of children. It helps improve gross motor skills and physical fitness (5).

11. Playing in the park

Activities such as swinging or sliding in the park can help balance your baby’s body and help in leg movements. Climbing rope ladders and bridges can help build the large body muscles (6).

12. Swimming

It helps build strong core muscles and develops coordination skills (7).

Delayed Development Of Gross Motor Skills

Some children may develop gross motor skills a little later than other children of the same age. This is normal. If you find the following in your child, do not draw conclusions, but see a pediatrician or physician (8):

At three months

  • Difficulty lifting head
  • Stiff legs
  • Fisted hands and lack of arm movement

At six months

  • Rounded back
  • Poor head control
  • Stiff legs
  • Difficulty in bringing arms forward

At nine months

  • Difficulty crawling
  • Inability to straighten back
  • Poor use of arms while sitting

At 12 months

  • Stiff legs and pointed toes
  • Stiff extended arms
  • Sits with weight on one side

At 15 months

  • Poor standing balance
  • Inability to take steps independently
  • Walks on toes

Probable Factors That May Cause Delayed Development Of Gross Motor Skills

Some of the factors that may cause developmental delays include (9):

Remember that all these conditions require immediate attention.


Some situations may not require any intervention and treatment because they may resolve as the child grows and develops. Other conditions may require physiotherapy, and the doctor may also recommend exercise, occupational therapy, and treatment methods. It is important to solve the problems related to gross motor skills, as they may interfere with your child’s overall development.

It is fulfilling to watch your child develop the skills needed to master the tasks of life. Guide and assist them through this important developmental journey. Avoid comparing your child with other children, as this may affect their self-esteem. Instead, inspire your child to try new activities, and help them build their confidence.


MomJunction's health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Gross Motor Skill Milestones for Infants; Rady Children’s HospitalSan Diego
2. Gross motor skills: Birth to 5 years; Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.
3. Preventing flat heads in babies; PMC NCBI.
4. Infant and toddler health; Mayo Clinic.
5. 8 Gross Motor Skills Activities for Kids; Understood.
6. What is Motor or Physical Development; Help Me Grow.
7. The A – Z of why swimming is great for kids;   Nuffield Health
8. Why Are Motor Skills Important?; Pathways.
9. Gross Motor Delay; Intermountain Healthcare.