What Are Gross Motor Skills?

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Gross Motor Skills are skills that develop through using the large muscles of the body in a coordinated and controlled way.

Just a few examples are: catching a ball, balancing, climbing, jumping on a trampoline, playing tag and running races. Movements of the whole arms, the legs and the trunk are all gross motor movements.

And don't forget the amazing gross motor development that a baby undergoes in 16 short months of life: rolling over, sitting up, crawling and walking!

Here are quick links to different sections on this page that tell you more about the importance of these skills and their development in a child's life:

* Haz click aquí para español: Todo Sobre La Motricidad Gruesa

Development of Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills develop through practice and repetition, which is why a baby takes weeks to perfect the art of rolling, sitting or crawling, and a child can take a whole season to learn how to catch a ball while running.

There are principles of gross motor development called “big to small” and “proximal to distal(Myers).

Basically this means that children develop control over the bigger muscles of the trunk, legs and arms which are closer to the body center (proximal) before they develop control over the smaller muscles of the hands which are distal (further away from the body center).

Children need to be exposed to diverse opportunities to move freely and experiment with different resources to help their skills develop.

However, for normal gross motor development to take place, the brain, spine, nerves and muscles need to be intact and undamaged. If damage has occurred through birth trauma, accident or illness, then progress of motor skills, as that of other skills, may be affected.

If you suspect that your child has sustained some damage to the brain or the body, please consult your health professional right away.

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What Affects Gross Motor Development

There are many factors that can affect the development of gross motor skills. Here are just a few:

  • Too much time in front of a screen. Access to media and technology has given our kids great exposure to all kinds of information that the previous generation did not have, but the cost is that kids may miss out on opportunities to develop their physical motor skills in outdoor and indoor play.

    Many children have not developed their coordination skills and their strength because they have spent too much time sedentary in front of a screen.
playing too many online games can affect your child's gross motor developmentPlaying too many computer games can affect gross motor development
  • The presence of low muscle tone or high muscle tone can affect your child’s ability to control the muscles of the body and therefore the development of skills may be affected.

  • Growing up in a protected environment can actually be hazardous to our health! We don’t let our kids play outside, walk to the park or cycle to friends anymore.
    We are trying to keep them safe, which is great, but their motor skills can be adversely affected by the lack of physical opportunity to explore their environment and play freely outdoors.

  • Babies tend to spend a lot of time in car seats, walking rings and in front of screens.
    These are all adaptations made necessary by the demands of modern life, but too much time in "baby gear" can have a detrimental impact on their motor development.

  •  A sedentary lifestyle, accompanied by too much rich food, means that adults are less likely to engage in physical games with their children.
    Kids then don’t have good role models, and prize other things more highly than physical activity and good health.

  • Underlying physical difficulties with coordination, balance, motor planning, and concentration can all affect a child’s ability to take part in, and benefit from, gross motor activities.
    These difficulties may stem from birth trauma, Sensory Processing Disorder, developmental delays, genetic abnormalities or many other causes.

If you are at all concerned about your child's gross motor development, please consult a health professional! This website is not a substitute for an occupational therapy evaluation and treatment!

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Why Are Gross Motor Skills Important?

Here are a few of the important benefits of developing good gross motor skills:

prepare your child for school skills by doing lots of gross motor activities
  • your child's confidence and self-esteem may improve as he or she develops the ability to take part in games with other children

  • studies have shown that children with good gross motor abilities may cope better in the classroom (Cameron et al).

  • stress and frustration can be relieved and released through physical activity

  • regular physical activity can help your child achieve long-lasting good health

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How Can I Improve My Child's Gross Motor Skills?

  • When your child's friends come to play, spend a few minutes in an organized gross motor activity with them. Show them how to jump rope, build an obstacle course, or play some relay races.
  • Visit your local playpark and encourage your child to climb, swing and run.

    Make the most of the equipment available - there may be ramps, seesaws, jungle gyms, monkey bars, climbing apparatus. If your child tends to stick to the same equipment, then encourage your child to try new things!
pulling up on a rope at a playparkPulling up on a rope
  • Get your child involved in some simple chores around the house!

    My article about the benefits of chores explains how you can help develop gross motor skills with everyday household chores!
  • Take a look at some of the free gross motor activities on my site that can help your child develop coordination skills, core strength and much more!

    My pages are full of photographed activity ideas that are easy to do at home!
  • My Gross Motor E-Books contain a huge variety of photographed activities you can do with your child at home or at a playground.

    Each resource PDF focuses on a specific gross motor skill, but all three skills are important for your child's development. For the price of a few coffees, you will have a wonderful array of photographed activities at your disposal!

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Babies & Gross Motor Development

Some fellow therapists have written some helpful posts on gross motor development in babies:
(all links open in a new tab/window)

Looking for more tips and inspiration to help develop your child's gross motor skills? Visit these free pages of my site for simple, photographed activities you can do at home!

Thanks for visiting my site! I hope you found this information helpful!

gross motor skills information and activities

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Free Printable Gross Motor Download!

This free printable download helps you to understand how gross motor skills can have an impact on your child in the classroom.

It is part of a set of 3 handouts that I compiled to help parents understand how gross motor, fine motor and visual perception skills can affect your child's learning.

You will get all 3 handouts absolutely free when you sign up for my newsletter!

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free information download for gross motor skills


Cameron, C.; Cottone, E. A.; Murrah, W. M. & Grissmer, D.W. (2016). How Are Motor Skills Linked to Children's School Performance and Academic Achievement? Child Development Perspectives. 10(2). 10.1111/cdep.12168.

Myers, Beverly. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Approach. Occupational Therapy for Physical Dysfunction. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1995

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