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.
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.
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.
Gross motor development involves the large muscle groups 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 gross motor milestone, please see your pediatrician to request a PT evaluation. Listed below are examples of gross motor skills by age.
Generally, gross motor development milestones for infants and toddlers are as follows:
In addition to the skills listed above, gross motor skills for 2 year olds include:
Examples of gross motor skills for 3 year olds include:
Again, each child develops at their own pace, so these gross motor milestones are approximate. As gross motor 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.
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:
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.
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!