Gross motor skills impact the ability to control whole-body movements using the arms, legs and torso. They begin developing right from birth as your baby flexes, reaches and waves their arms and legs in the air. It can take many weeks to acquire the skills needed to sit up and crawl.

‘Locomotor skills’ is another name given to gross motor skills. It includes hand-eye and foot-eye coordination needed for catching and kicking which also involves fine motor skills. Acquiring these skills is an integral part of your child’s development for performing everyday functions.

While it’s critical to encourage children to practice and develop their fine and gross motor skills, every child develops differently. This article highlights:

  • The importance of gross motor skills
  • Examples of gross motor skills
  • How you can encourage gross motor development
  • Gross motor skill activities.

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Why gross motor skills are important

Gross motor skills are important for your child’s physical development and overall well being. They are used in every type of environment, and as we grow into adults, we continue to use them in our schools, homes, work and leisure.

Even when we’re sitting, gross motor skills help us to maintain good posture. We coordinate these large muscle groups for movements like crawling, walking and running. While they’re often linked to things like sports, they’re also needed for everyday functions like getting dressed.

They provide the core strength needed for fine motor skills. Gross motor skills assist in refining our balance, strength, muscle endurance and coordination. By nurturing these skills in our children, we:

  • Promote long-lasting health
  • Encourage physical literacy
  • Boost their confidence and self-esteem
  • Provide an avenue for energy release
  • Relieve their stress and frustration
  • Promote brain development
  • Assist school readiness
  • Boost their ability to assess risk.

Children develop their balance and risk assessment skills an important part of gross motor skills.

What are examples of gross motor skills?

Gross motor skills are one aspect of developmental milestones that are tracked to know how well a baby is growing. Keep a diary of your child’s milestones both for ease of reference and remembrances but keep in mind that babies grow and learn at their own pace.

Baby’s gross motor milestones

  • 1 Month: May hold their head up for brief intervals after one month.
  • 3 Months: Holds head and shoulders up when placed on the stomach.
  • 6 Months: Rolls over from their front to their back. May sit for a few seconds unsupported. Starts to grasp objects in both hands.
  • 9 Months: Pulls their body forward to start crawling.
  • 12 Months: Stands for many minutes without support.
  • 15 Months: Walks without any assistance.
  • 18 Months: Runs.
  • 20 Months: Climbs up and downstairs.

Toddler’s gross motor milestones

  • 2 Years: Kicks a ball.
  • 2.5 Years: Tippi-toes and jumps with both feet.

Preschooler’s motor milestones

  • 3 Years: Rides a tricycle.
  • 4 Years: Hops on one foot. Throws a ball overarm.
  • 5 Years: Hops and skips and may ride a scooter.

Child learns to ride a tricycle an example of a gross motor skill milestone.

How you can encourage gross motor development

While a baby’s head needs support in the first few months, they will slowly begin to strengthen their muscles. To build a baby’s confidence and strengthen their neck muscles, hold your child to your chest so they can peer over your shoulder.

Another is to give babies plenty of supervised tummy time when they’re awake. Put down a comfy baby mat or blanket on the floor and place your baby down on their tummy. Walk around the room and motivate your child to lift their head and strengthen their neck muscles to see you.

Between 6-12 months your baby’s sensory abilities develop. Other playful activities can also boost gross motor skill development. A baby gym may be a useful addition at this age if your child is motivated to reach for objects and encouraged to strengthen leg muscles.

You can help older babies and children develop their gross motor skills by encouraging them to play and participate in physical and everyday activities. It not only promotes their physical health but strengthens their cognitive development for a journey of lifelong learning.

Baby looks up from tummy time an activity to encourage gross motor skill development.

List of gross motor skills activities

  • Painting and creating broad strokes with a paintbrush promote gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
  • General play – running, skipping, hopping and jumping.
  • Bouncing, rolling, throwing, kicking and batting a ball.
  • Balancing on tiptoes, a log or a tightrope stretched out on the floor.
  • Climbing in safe environments in playgrounds with adult supervision.
  • Keeping a balloon up in the air by hitting it with their head or hands.
  • Splashing about in water strengthens leg muscles (always supervise water play).
  • Dancing, walking and skipping to music improves coordination and balance.
  • Learning to ride on wheels such as a tricycle or scooter.
  • Using their body weight to swing and gain momentum.
  • Playing hopscotch helps to develop your child’s ability to jump.
  • Simon Says improves visual cues, body awareness and the ability to plan and carry out moves.
  • Bouncing on a trampoline or an inflatable gym like a castle improves coordination and fitness.
  • Fun obstacle courses either inside the house or in the backyard encourage your child to explore different surfaces and move through or around barriers.
  • Chasing bubbles can provide heaps of fun while moving little legs and stretching arms.
  • Hula-hoops encourage children to move their torsos.
  • Skipping ropes provide ample fun for jumping, skipping and foot-eye coordination.

Child learns to swing on monkey bars a gross motor skill activity.

Support your child’s development with Petit Early Learning Journey

At Petit ELJ, we believe in providing a flexible child-led approach to learning and development. We create enchanting environments where children are encouraged to explore and flourish, enhancing your child’s inner strengths, self-esteem, confidence and enthusiasm for learning.

By providing a structure for play, children’s ideas and needs are enhanced. Our learning programs are supported by the EYLF and contemporary teaching pedagogies. We invite you to tour your nearest centre and discover the wonder and joy of lifelong learning.

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