Motor Skills Development in Children

Instructor: Rachel Torrens

Rachel is a Nurse Practitioner with experience working as a high school teacher, skin surgery center, and as a family NP.

From birth onwards, we grow in our motor skill abilities, whether through everyday activities or purposeful interactions. In this lesson, explore the journey of gross and fine motor skills acquisition!

The Journey of Motor Skills Development

Micah is holding the spoon firmly in his right hand. He dips it haphazardly into his bowl of oatmeal and steadily raises it to his mouth, spilling more on route. He opens wide and sticks the spoon into his mouth. His father shouts ''Way to go!'', and his mother coos ''You did it.'' Micah has a huge smile because he is 16 months old, and has mastered the use of a spoon.

Children build fine motor skills when learning to use forks and spoons to eat.
Child eating with spoon

The accomplishments of infants tends to fascinate people, namely because babies are mastering a new motor skill every couple of weeks. The rapid rate at which their muscles mature, enabling them to perform functions independently, is praise-worthy indeed. What most people don't realize, is that this journey in motor skills development continues throughout childhood, and even into adulthood!

Keep in mind as we explore the development of motor skills that it is indeed a journey, not a scripted checklist with skills being crossed off in a systematic fashion. Every child's path to enhanced gross and fine motor abilities varies. Some children focus on perfecting one skill before tackling another, while others prefer to try their hand at multiple new tasks. What is important is that children continue to evolve their motor skills.

Gross Motor Skills Development

Micah is now three years old. He runs outside over the uneven grass to greet a friend. They quickly decide to play ''Rocket Race,'' which involves running around a tree, then jumping onto their tricycles to peddle across the finish line. Even in this simple game, you can see how much Micah's motor skills have grown!

Riding a bicycle or tricycle is a milestone in gross motor development.
Child riding bike

In particular, this game focuses on gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are those movements which require the large muscle groups in the arms, legs, and core of the body.

As mentioned before, every child's motor development unfolds in a unique way. But by the age of young childhood (ages 3 to 6), many of these gross motor skills should be evident:

  • Jumping with two feet in the air
  • Balancing on one foot
  • Riding a tricycle
  • Walking over uneven surfaces and maintaining balance
  • Changing direction while running
  • Kicking, throwing and catching a ball
  • Walking backwards
  • Walking up stairs, alternating feet on each step

Fine Motor Skills Development

Time flies, and as it does Micah continues to evolve in his motor skills development. He is now, at the age of six, an eager kindergartener. His teacher instructs him to write his name at the top of the page. He picks up his pencil, tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth, and writes a wobbly M-I-C-A-H. His teacher beams with pride at his accomplishment.

Fine motor skills are put to the test with any handwriting activity.
Child writing

By successfully writing his name, Micah has shown growth in the area of fine motor skill development. Fine motor skills are those movements which require control of small muscles, such as those in the hands. Fine motor skills tend to deal more with precision.

Some fine motor skills which may be evident in early childhood include:

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