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Motor skills are critical to early childhood development. Everything they do during this period of life involves motor skills – from postural and locomotor actions to exploratory actions and social interactions – and more. In essence, all behavior stems from motor behavior, aligning motor skill acquisition with behavioral development.

Today’s blog is a comprehensive guide to motor skill development from infancy through childhood. We will discuss the two main categories of motor skills, including the foundational types and how they present throughout development, and provide examples throughout.

Understanding the importance of motor skills during early childhood development is critical to helping children explore the world around them, which sets the stage for many other areas of development. Awareness of motor skill expectations can also help prevent motor development delays and conditions through early detection.

The Significance of Motor Skills

Motor skill development establishes the foundation of our physical interactions with the world. From the delicate movements of fingers to the broader motions of arms and legs, these skills determine how we explore, interact, and express ourselves.

As emphasized in this study, an infant’s behavior is rooted in motor skills, from posture adjustments to social interactions. Therefore, at its core, all behavior essentially stems from motor behavior, and proper development is essential to a child’s ability to interact with the world, including:

  • Being able to move and complete tasks independently
  • Being able to explore the world around them, promoting cognitive, speech, and sensory development
  • Giving them confidence and independence, promoting skills such as executive function
  • Meeting developmental milestones

Examples of Motor Skill Development

Children are continuously developing motor skills as they explore their world and surroundings. As toddlers, they learn to grasp a crayon using a fist grip and, over time, transition to a more refined pincer grip to draw or write, which are examples of fine motor skill accomplishments.

Alternatively, a child’s progression from crawling to standing, walking, and running is rooted in gross motor skill development. Developing these motor skills, both fine and gross (discussed next), lays the foundation for their physical development.

Distinguishing Between Fine and Gross Motor Skills

Motor skills, or the coordinated movements of our muscles in response to stimuli, enable us to perform various physical activities, and there are two main types: fine motor skills and gross motor skills.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills involve the precise movements of the smaller muscle groups, such as fingers and hands. We use fine motor skills for tasks that involve manipulating small objects, such as writing, buttoning clothes, picking up small items, or typing on a keyboard.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills form the basis for most physical activities and play a crucial role in a child’s overall development. These skills utilize the larger muscle groups and are vital for activities like running, jumping, reaching, and lifting.

Motor Skills Evolution: A Timeline

Although all children develop at different rates, they tend to reach certain milestones within similar age ranges. Following is a timeline of expected motor skill development milestones from birth to seven years of age.

During this stage, infants primarily display reflexive movements as they gradually gain control over their limbs. For example, they will begin to push up while on their tummy and make deliberate movements with the arms and legs.

During this phase, babies’ gross motor skills become more pronounced as they begin to explore their surroundings. For example, they will start to reach for objects, roll over, and sit with support. Our blog post, Newborn Tummy Time Tips & Tricks, provides more insight into this stage of early child development, including tips to encourage growth.

At this age, babies begin to crawl, stand with support, and even take their first steps. Their fine motor skills also evolve as they discover the pincer grasp with their fingers and pick up small objects. Our article on Transitional Movements in Kids offers a deeper dive into this phase.

As babies grow into toddlers during this phase, they become more mobile as gross motor skills develop, i.e., walking, running, climbing, and even jumping. Their fine motor skills also continue to develop as they begin performing tasks like drawing, building blocks, and feeding themselves. This phase is an excellent opportunity to enhance their language skills, and our guide, Language Activities for Toddlers, can help guide this process.

From 3-5 years of age, children refine their gross and fine motor skills by learning to ride bicycles, draw more complex shapes, and even start writing. Development of these skills helps them become more coordinated and balanced.

As children enter school, their fine and gross motor skills will continue to develop. For example, fine motor skills are honed through writing, while sports and playground activities encourage gross motor skill growth.

Supporting Motor Skill Development

As parents, it’s easy to step in and help children finish tasks – however, this isn’t always helpful for motor skill development. Growth in this area depends on learning by doing, no matter how long it takes. They’re learning, after all!

Following are some examples of how parents and caregivers can support motor skill development in children during this phase of life.

  • Engage in Play: Toys, puzzles, and games can significantly enhance motor skills. Our blog post, Fine Motor Fun from the Dollar Store, offers easy and affordable play ideas.
  • Physical Activities: Encourage activities like dancing, swimming, or even simple exercises at home.
  • Limit Screen Time: Encourage physical play over passive activities.

Motor skill developmental support is essential, and it can help children successfully reach milestones at each phase of development. Just remember to establish and maintain a safe environment for them to explore and play while encouraging and supporting their growth.

The Importance of Developmental Progression

Although we’ve already given some motor skill examples, let’s examine development through a progressive lens. For example, gross motor skill development involves a child progressing from crawling to standing, walking, and eventually running. As the child grows, they refine these skills, gaining better balance, coordination, and strength.

On the other hand, an example of fine motor skill progression is a toddler learning to grasp a crayon using a fist grip and, over time, transitioning to a more refined pincer grip to draw or write as the child grows and skills develop.

What are the 7 Basic Motor Skills?

Among motor skill development in general, seven foundational skills shape physical growth and development, and they typically fall into two main categories: locomotor and manipulative. These movements, primarily when hands are involved, can involve a combination of fine and gross motor skills to accomplish the activity, as follows:

  • Walking: Walking is the most fundamental locomotor skill. It involves the coordination of the legs and feet to move from one place to another. As children develop, their walking pattern becomes more rhythmic and balanced. This skill is essential as it provides mobility and independence.
  • Running: As an extension of walking, running requires a faster pace and involves a phase where both feet are off the ground. It demands greater coordination, balance, and strength. Running allows children to engage in various sports and recreational activities.
  • Jumping: Jumping involves propelling the body off the ground using the strength of the legs, either in place or over a distance. This skill enhances leg strength and spatial awareness.
  • Hopping: Hopping is a one-footed activity where a child jumps repeatedly on one leg. It requires balance, strength, and coordination. Hopping is often used in games and can be a precursor to athletic activities.
  • Throwing: A primary manipulative skill, throwing involves projecting an object away from the body using the arms and hands. It requires hand-eye coordination, timing, and strength. Whether tossing a ball or playing a game, throwing is a fundamental skill in many sports.
  • Catching: The counterpart to throwing, catching involves intercepting and grasping an object, usually with the hands. It demands good hand-eye coordination, anticipation, and reflexes. Mastering catching can boost a child’s confidence in sports and games.
  • Kicking: Kicking involves striking an object with the foot. It’s a complex skill that requires balance, coordination, and timing. From soccer to simple playground games, kicking is a vital motor skill for many activities.

These coordinated movements help children interact with the environment and play a crucial role in a child’s growth and development. By mastering these skills, children can confidently engage in various physical activities, enhancing their overall health and well-being.

Motor skill development is a continuous journey in the early years of life that shapes a child’s interaction with the world. Understanding the progression and supporting growth at all phases of development can ensure children reach their full potential. If there is concern around a particular development area, it’s a good idea to speak with your pediatrician, who may recommend professional support for your child’s motor skill development.

At KidsCare Home Health, we are dedicated to providing specialized pediatric care tailored to your child’s health and developmental needs – all conducted in the safety and comfort of your home. Explore our range of services here and let our experienced team support your family’s journey during the early development phases of life – and set your child up for success.

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