The term “gross motor skills” refers to activities that require using the large muscles in the arms, legs and torso. These skills include walking, running and jumping, to name just a few.
If you’ve been concerned about how well your child is developing these skills, you may have come across terms like dyspraxia or developmental coordination disorder. Kids who have dyspraxia may have trouble with some physical activities. But having problems with gross motor skills doesn’t necessarily mean your child has dyspraxia. And even if he does, there’s a lot you can do to help him.
Why Gross Motor Skills Are Important
Many kids who have movement issues achieve major milestones like sitting up and walking without problems. But as they get older, they may have trouble with other activities, like balancing on one foot or hopping.
These signs might be too subtle for parents to notice. They may not realize there’s a problem until their child starts school. At that time kids might hang back on the playground or be a little clumsy in the classroom. They could also have a hard time catching a ball, pedaling a bike or climbing the jungle gym.
Of course, children can have a happy, fulfilling life without being good at hopscotch or kickball! But the skills these activities require are important for managing the body. Being able to hop, for example, helps kids control themselves when they lose their footing. And not feeling confident on the playground can lower kids’ self-esteem and discourage them from staying active later in life.
How Gross Motor Skills Develop
It’s helpful to understand how motor skills progress so you have some sense of whether your child is on track. Keep in mind that knowing the order in which gross motor skills develop can be just as important as knowing when children gain new skills. For example, when your child starts rolling over, you’ll know that sitting up is the skill he would typically master next.
Gaining control of the body starts at the top. At around 4 months, babies typically can support their body with their elbows while they hold up their head. Soon after, they can rock on their stomach, kick their legs and swing their arms, which lets them roll over.
By 6 months or so, most babies start figuring out how to use the muscles in their trunks to sit up. Somewhere between 7 and 10 months, they may begin to crawl.
At about 10 months, babies are trying to pull themselves to a stand. Once upright, they’ll grab one piece of furniture and then another to “cruise.” At some point, they finally take that first furniture-free, Frankenstein-like step.
The milestones don’t end with walking. As kids become more sure on their feet, they can start, stop and run smoothly around corners. Between ages 3 and 5, most kids can balance on one foot for a few seconds and hop on one leg. By age 5, they can often put together the complex moves needed for skipping.
Improving Gross Motor Skills
If you’re concerned about your child’s gross motor skills, it’s a good idea to check in with your health-care provider. Just know that if your child does have an issue, whether or not it’s dyspraxia, help is available.
There are lots of fun things you can do at home to boost his skills. And specialists like occupational therapists or physical therapists can work with him to help him build the skills he needs.