Gross motor skills

As parents we wait in anticipation for our child to take their first steps; ready to snap photos and jot down ages and dates in baby books. Those first steps are a kind of rite of passage from being a baby to being a child. Doctors, nurses, therapists and child care workers also document the age at which children walk, as well as sit, roll and crawl because these gross motor milestones give a rough guide to a child's development. Gross motor skills continue to develop after those first steps though with a little less attention. These skills are important as they provide the balance, control and stability needed for the development of fine motor skills which are vital for success at school.They also provide the skills needed to develop ball skills, sporting skills and other skills such as bike riding which are important for social interaction and physical fitness. So what are gross motor skills and what should we expect at different ages? How do we help kids develop these skills and why are they important?

Gross motor skills are the ability to move our body, arms and legs and they begin to develop before birth as the baby moves about in the womb. After birth these skills develop into the ability to roll, sit, crawl and walk, then run, jump and balance. These skills develop though out life and are dependant on the opportunities a child experiences to develop and practice these skills with each skill building on the one before and preparing the child for the next challenge.

The following is a rough guide to the typical development of gross motor skills in young children:

At 8 months babies can:

  • sit without support
  • move from tummy to sitting
  • kneel on hands and knees and rock back and forth

At 9 to 11 months babies can:

  • begin to crawl
  • pull up on furniture to standing
  • move from standing to sitting
  • sit for extended periods of time

At 12 to 14 months babies can:

  • cruise around furniture holding on
  • begin to walk independently
  • climb into a small chair
  • pick up things off the floor
  • squat to play with toys
  • play with push & pull toys

By 18 months toddlers can:

  • climb steps
  • creep backwards down stairs
  • kick and throw a ball
  • sit on a ride a push along toy
  • walk and rarely fall
  • walk up and down steps holding one hand

At 20 months toddlers can:

  • bend over and look between their legs
  • climb into an adult chair
  • carry toys when walking

By 2 years toddlers can:

  • go up and down stairs with railings
  • jump on the spot
  • jump off a step
  • run well
  • begin to pedal a tricycle

By two and a half years of age children can:

  • stand on one foot
  • climb stairs with alternating feet
  • walk on tip toes

By three years children can:

  • walk and run well
  • hop on one foot,
  • pedal a tricycle well
  • balance on one foot

By four years children can:

  • walk on a narrow board
  • skip on alternating feet
  • balance on one foot for 10 seconds
  • catch a large ball

By five years children can:

  • move easily between sitting, standing and squatting
  • sit upright in a chair
  • jump over things
  • know left and right

By six years children can:

  • hit a ball with a bat
  • begin to ride a bicycle
  • kick a ball from a running start

At seven a child can:

  • throw a ball with accuracy
  • catch a small ball with one hand

So how can parents encourage the development of gross motor skills? Skills develop through practice and repetition. Kids are more likely to repeat activities that are fun and where they feel supported, encouraged and successful. Focus on having a go rather than reaching perfection. Offer a variety of fun activities and follow your child's interests. Break trickier tasks down into smaller steps and allow plenty of rest breaks when needed. Remember that children develop at different rates, gently encourage but and don't push children to do things if they do not feel ready.

Here are some ideas for developing gross motor skills:

  • visit playgrounds for developing climbing, swinging, sliding and jumping
  • outdoor play for running, jumping, hopping, skipping
  • ball play for throwing, kicking, bouncing, rolling
  • skittles or bowling
  • throwing at targets, through hoops, into boxes or baskets
  • put a ball into a stocking and hang it on the clothes line and hit it with a hand, bat or rolled up newspaper
  • outdoor games such as chasey and follow the leader
  • pushing, pulling and carrying such as with wheelbarrows and buckets of water
  • bike riding and scooters
  • balancing on planks, bricks, tyres, rope or masking tape lines on the floor
  • go for a walk, run, skip, hop
  • explore a local park, walk up a hill and roll down
  • play hide and seek
  • go to the beach and walk, run, swim and dig
  • visit a play cafe
  • organised activities such as kinder gym, swimming, dancing and sports
  • playing with balloons, kicking, punching in the air, keeping the balloon form touching the ground

Remember to make sure your activities are safe and suitable for your child's age and always supervise your child.

There are also lots of great activity ideas on the Talking Matters Pinterest page.

If you are concerned about your child's gross motor skills an occupational therapist is the person to see for advice. Occupational therapist can assess your child's skills and advise you on what to do to help your child's development. For more information about occupational therapy check Our website.

Related posts:

Fine motor skills

Occupational therapy

Body awareness

Calm alert and learning

Playing together

Baby play

The importance of play

Create and learn

Play and floortime

Developing play

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