Gross motor skills are the abilities required in order to control the
large muscles of the body for walking, running, sitting,
, and other activities.
Motor skills are actions that involve the movement of muscles in the body.
They are divided into two groups: gross motor skills, which are the larger
movements of arms, legs, feet, or the entire body (crawling, running, and
fine motor skills
, which are smaller actions, such as grasping an object between the thumb
and a finger or using the lips and tongue to taste
objects. Motor skills usually develop together since many activities
depend on the coordination of gross and fine motor skills. Gross motor
skills develop over a relatively short period of time. Most development
occurs during childhood. However, soldiers, some athletes, and others who
engage in activities requiring high degrees of endurance may spend years
improving their level of muscle and body coordination and gross motor
Gross motor skills development is governed by two principles that also
control physical growth. Head to toe development refers to the way the
upper parts of the body develop, beginning with the head, before the lower
ones. The second principle of development is trunk to extremities. Head
control is gained first, followed by the shoulders, upper arms, and hands.
Upper body control is developed next, followed by the hips, pelvis, and
Encouraging gross motor skills requires a safe, open
space, peers to interact with, and some adult supervision. Promoting the
development of gross motor abilities is considerably less complicated than
developing fine motor skills. Helping a child succeed in gross motor tasks
requires patience and opportunities for a child to practice desired
skills. Parents and other persons must understand the child's level
of development before helping him or her master gross motor skills.
Children reach developmental milestones at different rates. Pushing a
child to perform a task that is impossible due to development status
promotes frustration and disappointment. Children should be allowed to
acquire motor skills at their own paces.
There are a number of activities parents can have children do to help
develop gross motor skills. These include:
The first gross motor skill infants learn usually is to lift their heads
and shoulders before they can sit up, which, in turn, precedes standing
and walking. Lifting the head is usually followed by head control.
Although they are born with virtually no head or neck control, most
infants can lift their heads to a 45-degree angle by the age of four to
six weeks, and they can lift both their head and chest at an average age
of eight weeks. Most infants can turn their heads to both sides within 16
to 20 weeks and lift their heads while lying on their backs within 24 to
28 weeks. By about nine to 10 months, most infants can sit up unassisted
for substantial periods of time with both hands free for playing.
One of the major tasks in gross motor development is locomotion, the
ability to move from one place to another. Infants progress gradually from
rolling (eight to 10 weeks) to creeping on their stomachs and dragging
their legs behind them (six to nine months) to actual crawling (seven to
12 months). While infants are learning these temporary means of
locomotion, they are gradually becoming able to support increasing amounts
of weight while in a standing position. In the second half-year of life,
babies begin pulling themselves up on furniture and other stationary
objects. By the ages of 28 to 54 weeks, on average, they begin navigating
a room in an upright position by holding on to the furniture to keep their
balance. Eventually, they are able to walk while holding on to an adult
with both hands and then with only one. They usually take their first
uncertain steps alone between the ages of 36 and 64 weeks and are
competent walkers by the ages of 12 to 18 months.
Toddlers are usually very active physically. By the age of two years,
children have begun to develop a variety of gross motor skills. They can
run fairly well and negotiate stairs holding on to a banister with one
hand and putting both feet on each step before going on to the next one.
Most infants this age climb (some very actively) and have a rudimentary
ability to kick and throw a ball. By the age of three, children walk with
good posture and without watching their feet. They can also walk backwards
and run with enough control for sudden stops or changes of direction. They
can hop, stand on one foot, and negotiate the rungs of a jungle gym. They
can walk up stairs alternating feet but usually still walk down putting
both feet on each step. Other achievements include riding a tricycle and
throwing a ball, although they have trouble catching it because they hold
their arms out in front of their bodies no matter what direction the ball
Four-year-olds can typically balance or hop on one foot, jump forward and
backward over objects, and climb and descend stairs alternating feet. They
can bounce and catch balls and throw accurately. Some four-year-olds can
also skip. Children this age have gained an increased degree of
self-consciousness about their motor activities that leads to increased
feelings of pride and success when they master a new skill. However, it
can also create feelings of inadequacy when they think they have failed.
This concern with success can also lead them to try daring activities
beyond their abilities, so they need to be monitored especially carefully.
School-age children, who are not going through the rapid, unsettling
growth spurts of early childhood or
, are quite skilled at controlling their bodies and are generally good at
a wide variety of physical activities, although the ability varies
according to the level of maturation and the physique of a child. Motor
skills are mostly equal in boys and girls at this stage, except that boys
have more forearm strength and girls have greater flexibility.
Five-year-olds can skip, jump rope, catch a bounced ball, walk on their
tiptoes, balance on one foot for over eight seconds, and engage in
beginning acrobatics. Many can even ride a small two-wheel bicycle. Eight-
and nine-year-olds typically can ride a bicycle, swim, roller skate, ice
skate, jump rope, scale fences, use a saw, hammer, and garden tools, and
play a variety of
. However, many of the sports prized by adults, often scaled down for play
by children, require higher levels of distance judgment and
, as well as quicker reaction times, than are reasonable for middle
childhood. Games that are well suited to the motor skills of elementary
school-age children include kick ball, dodge ball, and team relay races.
In adolescence, children develop increasing coordination and motor
ability. They also gain greater physical strength and prolonged endurance.
Adolescents are able to develop better distance judgment and hand-eye
coordination than their younger counterparts. With practice, they can
master the skills necessary for adult sports.
There are a range of diseases and disorders that affect gross motor skill
development and skills. Among young persons, developmental problems such
as genetic disorders,
, and some neurological conditions adversely impact gross motor skill
Gross motor skills can become impaired in a variety of ways, including
, and congenital deformities. Developmental coordination disorder affects
motor skills. A person with this disorder has a hard time with skills such
as riding a bike, holding a
Gross motor skills
(Table by GGS Information Services.)
Girls using their gross motor skills, large muscle movements, to
(Photograph by Tony Freeman. PhotoEdit.)
pencil, and throwing a ball. People with this disorder are often called
clumsy. Their movements are slow and awkward. People with developmental
coordination disorder may also have a hard time completing tasks that
involve movement of muscle groups in sequence. For example, such a person
might be unable to do the following in order: open a closet door, get out
a jacket, and put it on. It is thought that up to 6 percent of children
may have developmental coordination disorder, according to the 2002 issue
of the annual journal
Clinical Reference Systems
. The symptoms usually go unnoticed until the early years of elementary
school; the disorder is usually diagnosed in children who are between five
and 11 years old.
Children with any one or combination of developmental coordination
disorder symptoms should be seen by a pediatrician who specializes in
motor skills development delays. There are many ways to address gross
motor skills impairment, such as physical therapy. This type of therapy
can include treating the underlying cause, strengthening muscles, and
teaching ways to compensate for impaired movements.
Parents, teachers, and primary caregivers need to have a clear
understanding of how young children develop gross motor skills and the
timetable for development of the skills. The Lincoln-Oseretsky Motor
Development Scale is an individually administered test that assesses the
development of motor skills in children and adults. Areas covered include
fine and gross motor skills, finger dexterity and speed, and hand-eye
coordination. The test consists of 36 tasks arranged in order of
increasing difficulty. These include walking backwards, standing on one
foot, touching one's nose, jumping over a rope, throwing and
catching a ball, putting coins in a box, jumping and clapping, balancing
on tiptoe while opening and closing one's hands, and balancing a
vertically. Norms have been established for each part of the test for
children aged six to 14.
—A nonprogressive movement disability caused by abnormal
development of or damage to motor control centers of the brain.
—A deformity present at birth.
Developmental coordination disorder
—A disorder of motor skills.
Fine motor skill
—The abilities required to control the smaller muscles of the
body for writing, playing an instrument, artistic expression and craft
work. The muscles required to perform fine motor skills are generally
found in the hands, feet and head.
Lincoln-Oseretsky Motor Development Scale
—A test that assesses the development of motor skills.
—The ability to move from one place to another.
—A group of inherited diseases characterized by progressive
wasting of the muscles.
Fine motor skills
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141 Northwest Point Blvd., Elk Grove Village, IL 60007. Web site:
Developmental Research for the Effective Advancement of Memory and Motor
273 Ringwood Road, Freeville, NY 13068. Web site:
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http://www.emedicine.com/ped/topic2640.htm (accessed November 19,