Understanding your child’s gross motor skills

Posted on 30 December 2019

Each child is unique and develops at a different rate. However, there are certain gross motor skill milestones that need to be reached to ensure your child’s healthy development.

Motor skills allow your child to actively engage with their environment and are affected by muscle tone, processing of sensory information, planning abilities and exposure to movement opportunities, says Faye Campbell, an occupational therapist at Mediclinic Bloemfontein. “They are divided into two categories, gross motor skills and fine motor skills, and develop through frequent repetition of movement patterns.”

“Gross motor skills refer to the use of the large muscles of the arms, legs and trunk in a coordinated and controlled way. This includes movements such as rolling, sitting, crawling, standing, walking, running, jumping, climbing, kicking and catching,” Campbell explains. Gross motor skills form the foundation for fine motor skills.

“Each milestone is important for the development of different muscles,” she adds. “For example, ‘tummy time’ assists with the development of your child’s back and neck muscles, which are in turn required for rolling from tummy to back and to assist with sitting posture. Crawling allows for bilateral coordination between the arms and the legs, as well as the two sides of the body. Crawling forms an important role in strengthening the shoulder muscles and hand muscles which in turn are needed for the development of fine motor skills.”

Campbell says it is worth seeking an occupational therapist’s advice if your child is slow to crawl or walk in the first year. Other signs of possible gross motor delays to look out for include difficulties moving in a controlled and coordinated manner, being clumsy or prone to accidents and avoiding (or tiring easily) when participating in gross motor activities.

“You might also notice poor posture when your child is sitting at a table or on a chair; they might tire easily when you’re together at a shopping mall and will either prop themselves against the trolley or you for support; and they might choose to be the ‘referee/judge’ in play situations to avoid actively participating in the movements.”

Campbell explains ways you can improve your child’s gross motor skills at home.

  1. When your child is still a baby, ensure you allow them time to move around on the floor and explore. Tummy time is essential as it allows the back and neck muscles to develop. Ensure the surrounding environment is safe for them to move around in.
  2. Play with your child outdoors and offer play opportunities such as balls, bats, ropes, trees to climb, jungle gyms and trampolines. Children need to experience their bodies in different positions. If you do not have these resources at home, then go to a park or play area.
  3. Draw hopscotch outside on the driveway with chalk.
  4. Build obstacle courses with your child and allow them to do the obstacle course.
  5. Interactive games such as ‘Simon says’ and ‘wheelbarrow walking’ can assist with improving gross motor skills.





In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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