Although every child is different, gross motor skills development typically occurs in a predictable pattern. Large muscles (arms, legs, and trunk) develop first, so kids master gross motor skills such as walking first. Small motor skills, which require control and dexterity in the hands and fingers, come later. You can also picture this as a progression from the center of the body (the core) outward toward the extremities (feet, hands, fingers).
Skills also develop from the top of the body down. Think of how a baby learns to first lift his head, then push up with his arms, then sit up by himself, then push up to hands and knees, then crawl, and finally walk: Head first, lower legs last.
Gross Motor Skills Development Timeline
Again, each child develops at his own pace, so these age guidelines are approximate. If you are concerned about your child's physical or gross motor skills development, check with her doctor or your school district's early intervention program (in the U.S.).
Generally, gross motor skills development happens at these ages and stages, and they build upon each other. A baby needs to be able to pull himself up to standing before he can test his balance and walk, for example.
- By about 3 months, baby can raise his head and chest when lying on his belly.
- At about 6 months, baby can roll over, both ways (from stomach to back and back to stomach).
- At about 8 or 9 months, baby can sit without support and may start to crawl.
- Between 12 and 18 months baby can walk on his own. He's a toddler now!
- At about 2 years, he can run, jump, and throw a ball.
- At 3 years, he can walk on tiptoe, climb well, try to stand on one foot, gallop, jump, kick a ball, and try to skip.
- Between 3 and 4 years, he can pedal a tricycle.
- When he reaches about 5 years, he can leap, skip, and gallop sideways.
Types of Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills can be grouped into different types. Locomotor skills are those used to move the body from place to place, like walking and running. Manipulative skills involve moving an object, such as a bat, ball, or jump rope. Stability skills are related to balance and weight transfer—for example, standing on one foot or dodging an obstacle.
Gross motor skills aren't just important for physical fitness and sports. Kids need them for school success, too. That's partly because of the order and sequencing of development—the way new skills build on previous ones, and the way small muscles develop after large ones. It's also because kids need to be able to sit at a desk or stand at a blackboard in order to write. And they need to be able to use balance and twisting skills to cross the midline (an imaginary vertical line dividing the right and left sides of the body), which they must do in order to read and write fluidly.
Encourage Gross Motor Skills Development
The best way to help your child develop large motor skills is through plenty of active play. Give him lots of time, space, and opportunities to use his muscles. Movement classes, like tumbling or dance, are fine, but free play is just as effective. There are tons of fun, skill-building activities and toys you can share with your child. Even some arts and crafts projects can encourage physical fitness and development.