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Gross Motor Skills And Your Child

Benchmarks For Infants and Toddlers

Research indicates that gross motor skills are a major predictor of a child’s school readiness. In essence they reflect “brain skills,” yet many parents and caregivers overlook their importance.

When infants and toddlers move their arms, legs, and other large body parts with large muscle groups, they are developing their gross motor skills. However, studies suggest that as children develop crawling, walking, running, and jumping, they are also developing their cognitive abilities.

How? Researchers believe it’s because many of the brain regions employed in motor skills development are also common to cognitive and perceptual skills. In effect, when infants and toddlers begin to work their large muscles, they are also exercising the neural networks needed for cognition and perception.

The correlation between the development of gross motor skills and cognition is born out by studies showing that preschoolers with poor motor skill development tend to struggle when they enter grade school.

Helping your child develop motor skills

Parents and caregivers can help children develop gross motor skills by making sure the infants and toddlers in their care are active every day in age-appropriate ways.

Tummy time provides an important early start for infants, and there are many ways that parents and caregivers can support it.

Physical activity in the early years doesn’t need to be complicated, but it needs to happen. After all, children are born with the potential to move but not the skills. To develop their skills and capacities, parents and caregivers need to create and support daily movement opportunities for the infants and toddlers in their care.

Here is a quick checklist of some of the fundamental movement skills that your infant and toddler should be developing according to Jim. Remember however that everyone develops at their own pace and speed. This is simply a guideline to follow.


From 0 to 2 years old

1. Grasping

Your child is born with a grasping reflex from day one. However, she will actually begin to practice grasping with deliberate intention at around three to four months. The ability to grasp objects is an essential motor skill. It also requires the development of hand-eye coordination, and it needs to be stimulated and supported in infancy.

Tip: Make sure your child always has age-appropriate toys to encourage her to practice grasping.

2. Roll over

Your infant should be able to roll over onto her stomach between four and six months
of age. Rolling over requires the development of basic core strength, and continued practice develops greater strength and coordination to progress to sitting and crawling.

Tip: Give your infant regular tummy time so she becomes familiar with the sensation of being on her stomach.

3. Sitting

Infants will generally be able to sit up unassisted at six months. Sitting requires core strength and coordination, which is developed earlier through regular tummy time.

Tip: When your infant starts to sit up on the floor, make sure that there are no sharp or hard obstacles present. Never leave her sitting unattended on beds, sofas, or chairs. If she loses her balance and tumbles, serious injury can result.


Aged Two to Four 

1. Running

By age two, most toddlers will have started running (some will have started as early as 20 months). They are still a bit unsteady on their feet and they often fall down, but they are keen to be fast and mobile.

Tips: Encourage your child in her running by making frequent trips to parks and other places where there are open spaces. When presented with an open field, most toddlers want to run and explore. Play games that promote running such as chasing a soccer ball or take turns chasing each other.

2. Throwing

Toddlers will naturally start to throw underhand before their second birthday, and some will even start to throw overhand. Their arms and legs will tend to be straight, and they won’t rotate their upper body very much, but they will improve steadily towards their fourth birthday. And the more they practice throwing, the better they’ll get.

Tip: Help your child to develop her throwing by playing catch with soft foam or fabric balls, or place simple paper targets on the wall for her to throw at. You should use balls that are small enough for your child
to easily grasp.

3. Catching

With a little coaching, you can teach your toddler to catch soft foam or fabric balls. Catching is a natural companion activity
to throwing, and catching activities help her to develop the ability to track the flight of an object in the air.

Tip: Show your child how to form as “basket” with her two arms in front of her stomach Gently toss the ball into her basket from a close distance of one to two metres. As her confidence grows and her fine motor skills improve, she will eventually start to use her hands more than her arms.

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