What are Motor Skills?
Motor skills are physical skills requiring the co-ordination of the muscles of the body to affect movement. This includes large body movements involving the head, torso and limbs, most often known as gross motor skills, and small body movements involving the hands and fingers, commonly referred to as fine motor skills.
Each physical motor skill or activity, whether gross or fine motor, involves a sequence of smaller movements that need to be coordinated and completed smoothly in order to efficiently complete the specific task. For example, think about the sequence of movements needed to successfully kick a ball – the child needs to:
- Coordinate not just the kicking leg but the planted leg as well, and
- Coordinate their arms to maintain balance as they kick, and
- Accurately, judge their distance from the ball to ensure they are close enough to connect with it, and
- Move their leg and foot in the direction necessary to connect with the ball successfully… and so on.
Which Motor Skills Are Important?
When it comes to identifying the sorts of physical activities that we can expect to observe in our young child, it is easy to think of those associated with major milestones like learning to crawl and walk or learning to cut with scissors but there are many often less obvious motor skills that are just as important to a child’s overall development. The following list is by no means exhaustive but is indicative of the types of skills relevant to each age group (remembering, of course, that each child is an individual and will follow an individual path of development).
Baby (0-12 months)
- Sits unassisted
- Pulls up to standing and stands unassisted
- Walks with assistance
- Reaches for an object
- Grasps an object
- Mouths an object
- Bangs two objects together
- Picks up object using a pincer grip (thumb and one finger)
- Transfers object from one hand to other
- Claps hands
Toddler (1-3 years)
- Walks unassisted
- Runs forward without falling
- Walks backwards
- Jumps in place
- Uses slide unassisted
- Walks on tiptoe
- Moves to music
- Feeds self with spoon, spilling little
- Pulls toy
- Pushes toy
- Turns knobs
- Pushes buttons
- Turns pages two or three at a time
- Stacks blocks into short tower
- Places rings on stick
- Places large pegs in board
- Posts items into an appropriately sized hole
- Rolls ball
- Throws ball
- Puts on own hat
- Unzips zipper
- Removes own shoes, socks, pants
Preschooler (3+ years)
- Walks on a line
- Hops on one foot
- Runs around obstacles
- Skips with alternating feet
- Kicks ball
- Catches bounced ball
- Turns single pages
- Models with clay and dough
- Strings large beads
- Cuts with scissors
- Makes more controlled marks with art materials
- Spreads soft butter with knife
- Buttons and unbuttons large buttons
- Puts on own shoes
- Washes hands unassisted
How Do Young Children Develop Motor Skills?
Young children need lots of active, playful opportunities to develop both gross motor and fine motor skills. These skills take time and repetition to master, and will often require the child to employ patience, perseverance and/or concentration – all of which are important long-term learning behaviours.
How Can I Support the Development of Motor Skills?
Encouraging their development can be as simple as taking advantage of everyday learning opportunities, such as involving the child in dressing and undressing, and household chores. Carefully selecting a range of playful activities and toys will also help to encourage motor development. When choosing, consider;
- The child’s current motor skill development: it is important to choose toys that encourage the child to try and persevere but are not so difficult as to cause frustration,
- The child’s individual interests: choose toys that reflect and build upon how your child already loves to play to motivate them to keep practicing, and
- How fun and engaging the experience is for the child.