You’ve probably heard your therapist, your pediatrician, or your friend who’s a parent talk about gross motor skills. But what are they, and why are they important? Babies learn so much through movement, and gross motor skills are a major aspect of their overall development. Movement is important to all of us, but especially to our developing little ones.
Gross motor skills are the abilities required to control the muscles of the body for large movements such as crawling, walking, jumping, running, and more.
Babies learn from head to toe. Our upper body muscle control develops before our lower body muscle control. As babies grow, they first develop control in their neck (head control) and trunk (sitting balance) and then they learn to control their shoulders, then elbows, wrists, and finally, their fingers. The same goes for the lower body, starting at the hips first, then learning to control their legs, feet, and eventually toes.
Gross motor skill development helps children to build strength and confidence in their bodies. Kids also enjoy the same benefits of exercise and physical activity as adults do, which is important for a healthy lifestyle, no matter your age. Developing gross motor skills helps a child grow in the ability to do more complex skills, such as navigating a new playground environment or playing a team sport.
Anything a child does to get from one spot to another is locomotion. Examples of gross motor skills in the locomotion category can include rolling, belly crawling, crawling on hands and knees, scooting, walking, running, climbing, leaping, jumping, and hopping.
Gross motor skills that are stationary include head control, sitting balance, standing on one or both legs, rising, falling, bending, stretching, pushing, pulling, swinging, swaying, twisting, and turning.
Think about all the things a child can do with a ball – they can roll, throw, catch, kick, stop, or bat a ball. All of these actions are manipulative gross motor skills.
We typically see a range of development for each milestone, where kids may develop that skill in the few months before or after their peers. If you notice your child continuing to struggle with development of an age-appropriate milestone, please see your pediatrician to request a PT evaluation.
Again, each child develops at their own pace, so these milestones are approximate. As gross motor skills development happens at these approximate ages and stages, they build upon each other. For example, a baby needs to be able to pull up to standing before they can walk.
Cait Parr is a pediatric physiotherapist at NAPA Center Los Angeles. Her favorite animal is snails, because they remind her to slow down and enjoy the beautiful details about life. She loves desserts almost as much as she loves long walks on the beach with her husband.
At NAPA Centre, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. If you’re interested in learning more, send us a contact form and our team will be in touch shortly!