Motor skills are a broad range of muscle movements that allow us to perform regular tasks. Broadly, motor skills can be divided into two categories: fine motor skills, and gross motor skills. This guide will be focused on gross motor skills, which involve the coordination of large muscle groups.
As parents, we are always looking to understand the development of our children and the developmental milestones that are often considered appropriate. Generally speaking, gross motor skills are developed during early childhood, and it’s important to understand how we can help children develop these important skills. In this guide, we’ll look more in-depth at the movements associated with gross motor skills, a typical timeline of gross motor skills development, and the difference between fine and gross motor skills.
What are gross motor skills?
Fine motor skills are typically delicate, more precise movements that involve the muscles of the fingers, hands and feet. We associate fine motor skills with hand-eye coordination, and these movements tend to require continual use to aid retention. Movements like brushing your teeth or playing an instrument are fine motor skills.
So what are gross motor skills? These are the movements we associate with larger muscle groups, such as the legs, arms and torso. They are usually developed during early childhood and, unlike fine motor skills, are almost always retained once learned. Examples of gross motor skills include walking, crawling and jumping, as well as many of the movements required for gross motor skill games and activities.
Why are gross motor skills important?
When we are born, we have very little active control over our bodies. Typically, we begin to develop gross motor skills from around three months of age, with development steadily continuing into childhood. Basic gross motor skills are important because, without them, a child’s overall growth and development can be impaired. The early stages of gross motor skill development will, ideally, provide the foundation for greater and more complex motor skills as a child grows.
While it can be worrying for parents to feel that a child is developing slowly, it’s worth understanding that each child develops differently. Delays in learning gross motor skills can, in some cases, be evidence of neurological conditions, but it is also true that children progress at different rates. With some targeted activities and regular attention, it is possible to actively encourage gross motor skill development in many cases.
What are some examples of gross motor skill activities?
There are a few key signs that a child might not be developing gross motor skills in an expected way. You might notice delays in their development compared to other children, stiff and stilted bodily movements, or difficulty completing physical tasks.
While gross motor skills are often passively learned, it is certainly possible to actively encourage their progress. This can be done through activities that stimulate qualities such as bodily coordination, balance and spatial awareness. These activities include:
This classic schoolyard game is a highly effective way to encourage gross motor skill development. Hopscotch requires hopping and jumping – skills that help develop muscle coordination, muscle strength and balance.
Combining rhythm with balance and coordination, dancing can be a highly effective activity for gross motor skill practice. The use of music helps children learn the required movements while making practice enjoyable. Lyrical music – like the Hokey Pokey, for example – can help younger children associate body parts with movement.
Activities that are fun and novel can encourage children to develop their gross motor skills. Swimming can be a great place to start, with children often enjoying playing in the water. Swimming lessons can be a good option, but even just allowing children to wade through water or play in sprinklers can help.
Other examples can include:
- Playing with toys
- Obstacle courses
- Jumping on a trampoline
- Stretching and yoga
Gross motor skills and autism
Difficulties developing gross motor skills can be a sign of neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and dyspraxia. Children with such disorders can experience issues with movement coordination, muscle strength and imitating the movements of others.
Children with ASD and related disorders are already exposed to complications arising from low physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Delayed development of gross motor skills exacerbates these concerns, which can lead to complications with bone health, cognitive function, weight and mental health.
In these cases, it is important to provide support for the child, and there are many options. A tailored program of physiotherapy can be effective for treating significant developmental delays, while simply providing approachable and engaging activities can be similarly appropriate. Depending on a child’s level of development, activities like sports can be effective, as well as other play-based therapies such as simple games.
Toys to support your child’s development
Another great way to engage children is through appropriate toys. At Special Needs Resources, we provide a wide range of toys designed to stimulate and develop gross motor skill functions. Some of our favourites include:
- Teeter Poppers: Children are encouraged to improve their core strength, balance and coordination with this multi-functional toy. Stand, sit, rock, tilt, wobble – there’s no wrong way to play. A pleasant popping sound provides reward and encouragement, making Teeter Poppers a fun way to play and grow.
- Door Pong: It’s table tennis minus the table, but a whole heap of fun. This interactive toy attaches a ball on a string to a door frame, allowing children the freedom to practice their gross motor skills over and over. Door Pong can be played both solo or with a friend.
- Scooter Board: A simple way for children to zip around, the Scooter Board features four swivelling wheels and two handles attached to a board. Scooter Board can be used both kneeling and sitting and is a fun way for kids to improve balance, coordination and strength.
Special Needs Resources is dedicated to helping children and people of all ages reach their potential. If you have any further questions about the right products for your needs, please get in touch with our friendly team today.