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Gross motor skills allow children to control those body movements that require the use of large muscles in the legs, arms, and torso. Learn more about gross motor skills from examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Defining Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are movements that involve using the large muscles of the body. The development of gross motor skills starts as soon as a child is born. As children age, their gross motor abilities continue to develop and improve. Boys usually develop gross motor skills much sooner than girls, with the exception of skills that involve balance and precise movements (i.e.

, skipping and hopping).Children rely on gross motor skills to engage in physical play. For example, playing a game of tag requires running after friends and reaching out and touching someone (gross motor skills). Children also rely on gross motor skills for everyday activities, such as walking in and out of a room.Other examples of gross motor skills include:

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  • Running
  • Climbing up a tree
  • Throwing a baseball
  • Dribbling a basketball

Gross Motor Skills Development

Let’s take a look at development of gross motor skills from age one month to six years.

At age one month, infants should be able to:

  • Lift their heads for a short time when they are placed on their tummies
  • Look at objects and the faces of others
  • Kick legs while lying on their back

At age six months, infants should be able to:

  • Roll over from back to tummy and tummy to back
  • Place their foot in their mouth while lying on their back
  • Support their own heads
  • Reach for toys

At age 12 months, infants should be able to:

  • Walk at least four steps with one hand being held
  • Stand alone for three to five seconds
  • Crawl
  • Roll a ball forward

At age 24 months, infants should be able to:

  • Walk
  • Place self into a small chair
  • Walk up and down stairs using a handrail
  • Run without falling

At age three years, a child should be able to:

  • Pedal on a tricycle for a short distance
  • Avoid objects in their way
  • Stand on one foot for a few seconds
  • Walk on the tip of their toes for a few seconds without falling

At age four years, a child should be able to:

  • Stand on one foot for at least five seconds
  • Hop on one foot one to three times
  • Gallop five feet
  • Pedal a tricycle for a distance and be able to turn corners

At age five years, a child should be able to:

  • Do a somersault
  • Gallop ten feet
  • Catch a tennis ball from five feet away using only their hands
  • Run while pumping their arms
  • Walk down the stairs independently

At age six years, a child should be able to:

  • Hop 20 feet without falling
  • Walk 15 feet on the tips of their toes
  • Skip ten feet

Disorders Involving Gross Motor Skills

There are several disorders that can cause delays in a child’s gross motor development. They include:

  • Dyspraxia: a condition characterized by an impairment in the ability to carry out organized movements
  • Cerebral palsy: a condition usually caused by brain damage that occurs anywhere between the time a mother becomes pregnant until the child turns five; characterized by impairments in muscle tone, movement, and motor skills
  • Genetics: there are several genetic conditions that can cause a child to experience gross motor delays, including fragile X syndrome and Down syndrome
  • Sensory processing disorder (SPD): also known as sensory integration disorder, a neurological condition in which the body has trouble taking in and effectively responding to sensory information. For example, people with SPD may touch a hot stove (sensory information) but instead of removing their hand (an appropriate response), they may keep their hand on the stove because they have trouble processing that the stove is hot.
  • Pervasive developmental disorders (PDD): a group of non-curable disorders that are characterized by limitations in basic developmental skills, such as socialization.

    The five PDD are:

    • Autism
    • Asperger syndrome
    • Rett syndrome
    • Childhood disintegrative disorder
    • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified

Lesson Summary

Gross motor skills require using large muscles in the body, including arms, legs, and the torso. Gross motor skills are an important part of childhood development. They are essential in play and everyday activities. A child’s gross motor skills improve as the child ages. There are several conditions that are known to cause gross motor impairments, including genetic conditions, PDD, and sensory processing disorder.

Learning Outcomes

When you are finished, you should be able to:

  • Explain what gross motor skills are
  • Discuss the development of gross motor skills through childhood
  • Recite some of the disorders that can affect gross motor skill development in children
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