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Gross Motor Development for Infants and Toddlers

Nov 12th, 2021 | by Cait Parr, PT, DPT

Cait Parr, PT, DPT

November 12th, 2021

You’ve probably heard your therapist, your pediatrician, or your friend who’s a parent talk about gross motor skills. But what are they, and why are they important? Babies learn so much through movement, and gross motor skills are a major aspect of their overall development. Movement is important to all of us, but especially to our developing little ones. In this blog, we’ll discuss the importance of gross motor skill development and share gross motor skills examples by age. 

Jump Ahead for Gross Motor Skills Examples:

What are Gross Motor Skills? 

Gross motor skills are the abilities required to control the muscles of the body for large movements such as crawling, walking, jumping, running, and more. They also include higher level skills such as climbing, skipping, and throwing and catching a ball.

Motor Skills and Motor Development

What are motor skills and how do they develop? Babies learn from head to toe. Our upper body muscle control develops before our lower body muscle control. As babies grow, they first develop control in their neck (head control) and trunk (sitting balance) and then they learn to control their shoulders, then elbows, wrists, and finally, their fingers. The same goes for the lower body, starting at the hips first, then learning to control their legs, feet, and eventually toes.

Fine vs. Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor development involves the large muscles of the arms, legs and trunk, whereas fine motor skills involve small muscles of the body, typically thought of as the movements that involve the fingers and the hands. 

Importance of Gross Motor Skills 

In the area of gross motor development, we know that often times, rolling leads to crawling, and crawling leads to walking. We start with foundational skills and work through a developmental progression.

Gross motor skill development helps children to build strength and confidence in their bodies. Kids also enjoy the same benefits of exercise and physical activity as adults do, which is important for a healthy lifestyle, no matter your age.  Developing gross motor skills helps a child grow in the ability to do more complex skills, such as navigating a new playground environment or playing a team sport.

As kids gain control of their body, they start to build up strength. Little ones need lots of opportunities to practice movement, because that’s how they learn and grow!

3 Different Types of Gross Motor Movements:

1. Locomotion, which 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,which refers to 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, which means moving objects in a variety of ways.

Think about all the things a child can do with a ball – they can roll, throw, catch, kick, stop, or bat a ball. All of these actions are manipulative gross motor skills. 

Gross Motor Skills for Infants

We typically see a range of development for each gross motor milestone, where kids may develop that skill in the few months before or after their peers. If you notice your child continuing to struggle with development of an age-appropriate milestone, please see your pediatrician to request a PT evaluation. Listed below are examples of gross motor skills by age.

Gross Motor Skills Examples 

Generally, gross motor development milestones for infants and toddlers are as follows: 

Newborn to 2 months:

  • Head lag with pull to sit 
  • Lifts head and able to turn to both sides while on belly (View our guide for mastering tummy time!)
  • Kicks both legs and moves both arms equally while on back 
  • Turns head to both sides while on back 

3-4 months :

  • Raises head in line with trunk when pulled to sit   
  • Pushes up on forearms and turns head side to side while on belly   
  • Rolls from belly to back  (Use these 3 tips to help teach your baby to roll over!)

5 months :

  • Brings feet to mouth laying on back   
  • Rolls from back to belly  
  • Pushes up on hands with arms extended while on belly   
  • Pivots in a circle on belly 

6-8 months:  

  • Catches self with loss of balance in sitting    
  • Crawls on belly   
  • Reaches for toys to play in sitting    
  • Sits independently    

9-11 months:

  • Crawls on hands and knees 
  • Cruises around furniture     
  • Moves between laying down and sitting upright without help   
  • Pulls to a standing position with one foot leading   
  • Walks with two hands held 

11-12 months:  

  • Walks with one hand held 
  • Stands independently for a few seconds 

13-14 months:  

  • Crawls up stairs   
  • Stands up from the floor without support    
  • Walks independently: Yes, walking is a gross motor skill! (Peek at our tricks used to help children who are on the verge of independent walking!)
  • Squats and stands back up without support   

15-18 months:   

  • Walks up stairs with hands or rails to help   
  • Crawls down stairs on belly, feet first   
  • Kicks a ball forward 

Gross Motor Skills for 2, 3, 4, and 5-year-olds Develop as Follows: 

Gross Motor Skills for 2 Year Olds:

In addition to the skills listed above, gross motor skills for 2 year olds include:

  • Walks and runs fairly well 
  • Kicks a ball with either foot 
  • Walks up and down stairs alone   
  • Jumps in place (both feet off the ground)   

Gross Motor Skills for 3 Year Olds:

Examples of gross motor skills for 3 year olds include:

  • Balances on one foot for a few seconds    
  • Catches a large ball    
  • Jumps forward 10-24 inches    
  • Rides a tricycle 

Gross Motor Skills by 4 Years Old:

  • Runs, jumps, and climbs well 
  • Hops on one foot   
  • Catches a ball 
  • Somersaults 

Gross Motor Skills by 5 Years Old:

  • Skips and jumps rope   
  • Starts to skate and swim   
  • Rides bicycle with or without training wheels     

Again, each child develops at their own pace, so these gross motor milestones are approximate. As gross motor skills development happens at these approximate ages and stages, they build upon each other. For example, a baby needs to be able to pull up to standing before they can walk. We hope this blog was helpful in sharing examples of gross motor skills in child development. 

Gross Motor Delay

When a child’s gross motor development is delayed, pediatric physical therapy is often prescribed to help a child work towards gaining gross motor skills. A physical therapist works on an array of foundational skills to help a child maximize his or her gross motor potential including:

  • Balance
  • Muscular Strength and Endurance
  • Motor Learning and Planning
  • Body Awareness
  • Sensory Processing
  • Coordination
  • Postural Control
  • Muscle Tone (Addressing low muscle tone or high muscle tone)
  • Crossing the Mid-Line (moving arms or legs across the middle of the body to perform a task)

Find Additional Resources in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author 

Cait Parr is a pediatric physical therapist at NAPA Center. Her favorite animal is snails, because they remind her to slow down and enjoy the beautiful details about life. She loves desserts almost as much as she loves long walks on the beach with her husband.  

About NAPA Center

At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. If you’re interested in learning more, send us a contact form and our team will be in touch shortly!

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