Gross Motor Skills: What You Need to Know

By The Understood Team
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At a Glance

  • Gross motor skills involve movements of the large muscles of the arms, legs and torso.

  • Kids rely on gross motor skills for everyday activities at school, at home and in the community.

  • Kids who struggle with gross motor skills have trouble doing whole-body movements like climbing and jumping jacks.

Does your child struggle with activities that involve large movements, like throwing a ball or skipping? If so, you may have heard that your child has trouble with gross motor skills. But what exactly are those skills?

Gross motor skills are abilities that allow people to do things that involve using the large muscles in the torso, arms and legs to complete whole-body movements. That includes activities like climbing and jumping jacks. Kids rely on these skills to have successful experiences at school, on the playground, and in the community.

Learn more about gross motor skills and how difficulties with them can impact kids.

What Are Gross Motor Skills?

We use gross motor skills to do everyday things that involve our large muscles, from exercising to raking leaves. Most people use these skills easily and automatically. But gross motor skills are more complex than you might think.

These skills involve the coordination of the muscles and the neurological system. They impact balance and coordination. They also form the basis for fine motor skills that help us make small movements.

Gross motor skills are related to other abilities. These include:

  • Balance

  • Coordination

  • Body awareness

  • Physical strength

  • Reaction time

All of these abilities help kids participate successfully in activities at school, at home and in the community. Imagine what gym class, recess or playdates are like for a child with weak gross motor skills. These challenges can impact a child’s self-esteem and social life.

Trouble With Gross Motor Skills

Kids achieve different gross motor milestones over time. For instance, at age 3 or 4, kids are typically able to jump with two feet. By 7 or 8, they can typically ride a bike without training wheels.

If your child regularly misses these milestones, or seems to struggle with motor activities for a long time, it might be a sign of a condition called developmental coordination disorder (DCD). (Some people may use the term dyspraxia instead.)

Talk to your child’s doctor if you have concerns about your child’s motor skills. You can talk to the school about getting related services like physical therapy or occupational therapy (OT) for your child. (You can also pay for these therapies privately or use private health insurance for additional services.)

Building Gross Motor Skills at Home

Your child might be able to get help at school to work on movement issues. But there are also things you can do at home to improve your child’s gross motor skills.

If you’re concerned that your child might be struggling with gross motor skills, learn about steps you can take. Find out what happens in an OT evaluation. And read about how sensory processing issues can impact motor skills.

Key Takeaways

  • Gross motor skills are related to balance and coordination.

  • Difficulty with gross motor skills could be a sign of developmental coordination disorder, which some people may call dyspraxia.

  • Occupational therapy can help kids build gross motor skills, and there are activities you can try at home, too.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Keri Wilmot 

is an occupational therapist who works with children of varying ages and abilities in all areas of pediatrics.

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