Fine Motor and Gross Motor Development
Motor skills are at the forefront of development and affect all areas of daily function. However, it is sometimes unclear what constitutes a gross motor skill and what constitutes a fine motor skill, and how you know if your child is on track for both.
Gross motor skills are movements that involve larger muscle groups, such as walking, running and jumping. Fine motor skills are more refined movements of the hands, fingers and toes such as picking up a toy and placing it into a container. Gross motor development affects fine motor development. Proximal stability results in distal mobility, meaning babies and children must develop gross motor skills such as postural control prior to developing fine motor skills such as reaching and grasping.
Let’s look at development from the newborn phase on, and what the key milestones to look for are for each age group.
Key Milestones by Age
Fine Motor Skills: Babies should be able to reach for and grasp objects by 6 months of age
Gross Motor Skills: Babies should be able to roll from back to belly and belly to back, and sit unsupported for several seconds by 6 months
Fine Motor Skills: Babies should be able to pick up objects, bang two objects together, switch objects between hands, and a pincer grasp should emerge
Gross motor skills: Babies should be able to sit unsupported, crawl in a reciprocal pattern on their hands and knees, pull to stand and cruise on furniture. Some babies may begin taking steps
Fine Motor Skills: Babies/toddlers should be able to use a neat pincer grasp, stack 2-3 blocks, scribble with markers, and use utensils (with assistance and some spills)
Gross Motor Skills: Babies will should begin walking independently, kicking a ball, and safely navigating stairs (scooting down stairs and maneuvering furniture)
Fine Motor Skills: Toddlers should begin stacking blocks, using toys such as a shape sorter, and refine use of utensils. They should be able to hold an object in one hand and use the other hand to manipulate it
Gross Motor Skills: Toddlers should be able to run and jump with both feet
Fine Motor Skills: 2-year-olds should be able to place simple puzzle pieces, start managing zippers (pull up initiated zipped jackets), refine stacking skills and place small objects into a container. By 2.5 years, toddlers should be able to use a fork and a spoon with proficiency
Gross Motor Skills: 2-year-olds should be able to run and jump more confidently, navigate stairs safely (in a step-to pattern), and throw a ball overhand
Fine Motor Skills: 3-year-olds should start imitating pre-writing strokes such as circles, + horizontal and vertical lines. They should be able to snip with scissors, and should have the bilateral coordination skills required to don and doff elastic waist pants independently
Gross Motor Skills: 3-Year-olds should be able to balance on one foot, navigate stairs in a reciprocal pattern, begin riding a tricycle
Fine Motor Skills: 4-year-olds should be able to imitate shapes, cut out simple shapes with scissors (square, circle), draw a person with 2-4 body parts
Gross Motor Skills: 4-year-olds should be able to climb, skip, and hop on one foot
Fine Motor Skills: 5-year-olds should be able to imitate most letters, use scissors to cut more complex shapes, and manage fasteners on clothing
Gross motor skills: 5-year-olds should be able to start riding a bike without training wheels
Fine motor skills: 6-year-olds should demonstrate improved handwriting skills and tripod/quadrupod grasp patterns, tie shoelaces, manage fasteners (including those on back)
Gross motor skills: 6-year-olds should be able to engage in organized sports and activities
How to Know if your child needs intervention
Your child may surprise you! If you are not sure if they can do any of the above tasks within their age range, encourage them to try! A lot of times children just haven’t been exposed to the tools they need to be able to complete a task. For example, several 3-year-olds have never used scissors, and that is okay! If you notice that your child may be behind in several areas, it is a good idea to raise concerns with your child’s teacher and pediatrician. Scheduling an occupational therapy evaluation may also be necessary. An occupational therapist will be able to evaluate your child to determine if they have the underlying skills necessary to complete the tasks listed above. OT’s are trained in activity analysis and will be able to determine the factors that contribute to deficits and how to facilitate development. OT’s will be able to provide targeted intervention to help your child, and provide suggestions for how to work on these skills at home through play based tasks and activities.
Both fine and gross motor skills are foundational for overall development and facilitating independence throughout childhood. They are often linked and one may affect the other. Occupational therapists can help determine if a child is on track for development, and if they are not, what underlying skills need further development to facilitate motor skills.