Motor Development in Infancy, Early Childhood & Adolescence

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  • 0:05 What is Motor Development?
  • 0:53 Motor Development in Infancy
  • 2:18 Motor Development in Childhood
  • 3:34 Motor Development in…
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Motor development changes throughout the lifespan. This lesson discusses motor development in infancy, early childhood, and adolescence. Both gross and fine motor development are addressed.

What is Motor Development?

Have you ever held a newborn baby? If so, you probably know that you must support the heads of newborn babies because the muscles in their necks are not yet strong enough to do so. This is one small example of motor development.

Motor development is the term that represents the way one's ability to control bodily movements increases as he or she grows. Gross motor development refers to one's ability to control his or her large muscle groups, like arms and legs. Balance is also an important part of gross motor development. Finally, fine motor development represents the use of our small muscle groups, like fingers, more precisely for things like handwriting or drawing.

Now that we understand what motor development is, let's take a closer look at the ways it changes throughout the lifespan.

Motor Development in Infancy

When babies are born, movement is usually the result of reflexes. Reflexes are unplanned automatic responses to environmental stimuli. For example, if a baby is cold, he or she might shiver. This is a reflex because the baby did not have to think about shivering; it took place automatically.

As the brains of babies develop, reflexive behaviors begin to subside and motor development increases. For example, an older baby might cover himself or herself with a blanket if cold. Motor development would allow the baby to reach out for the blanket.

Gross motor development happens before fine motor development. Both occur from brain maturation. In short, as the brain develops, connections are made that increase coordination and balance. For example, as gross motor development occurs, babies begin to hold up their own heads without support. A bit later, they may be able to roll over and scoot around. Eventually they'll crawl, walk, and run. This is the typical pattern of gross motor development in infancy.

Fine motor development takes a bit more time for infants. It usually begins with babies placing their fingers or toes in their mouths. Next, they may reach out for something like a rattle or bottle. Eventually, they can use their fingers to complete simple puzzles or turn the pages of a book. As fine motor development progresses from infancy to childhood, both gross and fine motor development become more refined.

Motor Development in Childhood

Think about how wobbly a baby's first steps are. This quickly gives way to skipping, running, jumping, and climbing in childhood. Again, these advances are related to an increase in brain development as babies grow into children. As the brain grows and develops in children, processing speed increases, and the two hemispheres of the brain begin to communicate more effectively. This contributes to the advances in motor development.

Gross motor development improves vastly during childhood. Muscle gets stronger; balance, coordination, and speed increase; and endurance improves. For example, most children move quickly from scooting on a ride-on toy, to pedaling a three wheeled tricycle, to a bicycle with training wheels, to a two-wheeled bicycle. This exemplifies the progression of gross motor development throughout childhood.

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