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Gross Motor Skills (Birth To 5 Years) And Activities To Develop Them

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Gross motor skills refer to skills involving the larger muscles of the arms, legs, and torso that enable us to perform activities such as standing, running, sitting, throwing, catching, and swimming. Gross motor skills are the first motor skills developed by infants. These skills help the child grow into an independently functioning and mobile individual (1).

In this post, we discuss the types of gross motor skills and factors that can cause delays in their development. We also give you recommendations of  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 the completion of daily activities. Gross motor skills involve the larger muscles like those in the legs and core, while fine motor skills involve the smaller muscles of the hands, fingers, and wrists, which help your child with activities such as writing, grasping, and building with 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 crawling, walking, running, jumping, sliding, and 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 or near specific ages. The following are some gross motor skill developmental 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 their hands, bring their hand to their mouth, and kick their legs.
  • Four months old: Babies begin to roll from back to side.
  • Five months old: Babies begin to roll from their back to their belly.
  • Six to eight months old: Babies begin to raise their chest and upper abdomen during tummy time, explore things with their hands, and sit without assistance.
  • Eight to eleven months old: Babies start crawling around the house.
  • Nine to twelve months old: Babies start reaching out for toys from a sitting position and begin to pull themselves to a standing position while holding on to a sturdy object.
  • Eleven to twelve months old: Babies begin to stand without assistance, walk while holding onto furniture, and take their first independent steps.
  • Fifteen months old: Babies develop the skills to climb up steps while holding a railing and walk without support.
  • Eighteen months old: Babies learn to run, although they may fall often.
  • Two years old: Toddlers develop skills such as kicking,jumping, standing on tiptoe, throwing overhand, climbing on and off furniture, running with fewer falls, and walking down stairs.
  • Three years old: Kids are able to balance on one foot for a few seconds. They also learn to catch a ball using both hands.
  • 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 balancing on one foot for 10 or more seconds, somersaulting, swinging, skipping, skating, and swimming.

Activities To Encourage Development Of Gross Motor Skills

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

Babies

1. Alternating the head positions

Frequent changes in your baby’s head position can keep flattened areas from forming or reduce these areas when they have already formed.  At night, alternate the end of the bed where your baby lays its head. Turn your baby’s head so that it does not rest on the flattened area (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. Helping The Baby Sit

Support the baby while they learn to sit. Place some exciting toys nearby to maintain their interest, and encourage them to explore the toys and things around them. When your baby is able to sit unassisted, try moving the toys slightly further from the baby so that they have to reach their arm just outside their base of support to reach them. Supervise this activity closely as it will take time for the baby to develop the core strength to lean without falling.

4. Playing with rattles

Rattles amuse babies and can help in developing and improving hand-eye coordination and perception skills. They encourage large movements of the arm to increase the sound produced.

Toddlers

5. Dancing

Shaking the body to the rhythm of music is a good gross motor activity. It can help develop 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. Be sure to supervise closely!

8. Playing with boxes

Use empty boxes as play objects and allow your baby to crawl through and climb over the boxes. You can also use these boxes to create obstacle courses for your little ones.

Preschoolers

9. Having fun with trampolines

The trampoline is great for helping your child improve their cardiovascular fitness as well as learning to jump, roll, and balance while having fun. Always supervise children as they play on the trampoline (5).

10. Riding tricycles or scooters

This is often a favorite activity of children. It helps improve gross motor skills, balance, and physical fitness (5). It’s also an activity that can be done socially in family or friend groups.

11. Playing At The Playground

Activities such as swinging, climbing, or sliding at the playground can help improve your child’s balance and increase their strength and coordination. Climbing rope ladders and bridges and monkey bars help build the large body muscles (6).

12. Swimming

Swimming is an invaluable safety skill, and it helps build a strong core, strengthens other muscles throughout the body, and develops coordination skills (7).

Delayed Development Of Gross Motor Skills

Some children may develop gross motor skills a little later than other children. This is common. However, if you notice any of the following in your child, make an appointment to speak with your pediatrician or physician (8):

At three months

  • Difficulty lifting head
  • Stiff legs
  • Fisted hands and lack of arm movement
  • Inability to bring hands to mouth

At six months

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

At nine months

  • Difficulty crawling
  • Inability to straighten back or sit upright
  • Poor use of arms while sitting
  • Does not bear weight on legs while supported in standing position

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

Possible Factors That Can Cause Delayed Development Of Gross Motor Skills

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

Remember that all of these conditions require attention from your pediatrician.

Interventions

Some situations may not require any intervention and treatment because they will resolve as the child grows and develops. Other conditions may require physiotherapy, specific exercise, occupational therapy, or other treatment methods. It is important to address the problems related to gross motor skill deficits, 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.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references 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.

 

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Dana Sciullo

(MOT, OTR/L)
Dana Sciullo is a licensed and registered occupational therapist in the US, specializing in pediatrics. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Masters degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Pittsburgh.  Dana has been working as an occupational therapist since 2015 in multiple settings including schools, outpatient clinics, and telehealth. Having completed extensive continuing education in the areas... more

Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo is a zoologist-botanist turned writer with over 8 years of experience in content writing, content marketing, and copywriting. He has also done an MBA in marketing and human resources and worked in the domains of market research and e-commerce. Rohit writes topics related to health, wellness and development of babies. His articles featured on several notable websites, including... more