Find Out What Fine and Gross Motor Skills Are and How Your Child Can Benefit From Practicing Them
Remember those exciting moments when your child first rolled over or took those first wobbly steps?
You might’ve jumped up and down with excitement or fumbled for your phone to record those precious moments.
Since then, your child hasn't stopped learning and developing his or her motor skills.
Motor skills are the skills used to move all parts of the body — like walking, throwing, eating, or writing. Different skills develop at different rates. Parents and educators can encourage development by introducing children to the right activities at the right time.
Do you know what motor skill milestones to look for in early childhood? Keep reading for some tips and activities to help your child develop.
What Are Fine and Gross Motor Skills? Why Are They Important?
Motor skills are divided into two categories: fine and gross (which means “large,” not “yucky”).
Fine motor skills are small movements that require a lot of control. Those small movements are made in the hands, fingers, lips, tongue, wrists, ankles, and toes.
You can see fine motor skills at play in early childhood when your child uses her pincer grasp to pick up a small toy, scribbles with her favorite marker, or takes a bite of her favorite food with a fork.
Gross motor skills are movements that use large muscle groups. Many of these skills require coordination — meaning muscle groups need to work together.
Anytime you see your child running, jumping, skipping, or climbing — he’s using his gross motor skills.
Fine and gross motor skills are required for daily life. They’re how your child will be able to feed themselves, play on the playground, and even speak!
Children develop motor skills at different rates, so don’t be concerned if your child isn’t able to do everything listed in his or her age category. However, knowing what to expect at each stage can help you assess your child’s development — and even spot if he or she is naturally inclined towards a certain skill.
You can share what you learn about motor skills with your child. Pause during the day to bring attention to how God made their body work.
“Isn’t it cool how God made your body able to climb those stairs?”
“Did you know God created your fingers to work together so you could pick up all that cereal?”
“Let’s thank God that He made our bodies able to play fun games!”
Using everyday moments like this will encourage your child to look for God’s design everywhere, and develop a heart of gratitude toward Him.
Fine Motor Skills By Age
3-4 Years Old
Children at this age will be working on tasks such as:
- Coloring or scribbling with large writing tools
- Cutting paper with small safety scissors
- Making an “O” shape with their lips to blow bubbles
- Opening doors by turning door knobs or pulling handles
- Working on dressing and undressing themselves
- Trying to zip, button, or fasten pieces of clothing
- Fitting large puzzle pieces (not greater than 24) together
- Using spoons and forks with some meals
4-5 Years Old
Children at this age may have mastered the list above and will be working on tasks such as:
- Tracing lines or drawing pictures with shapes or stick figures
- Cutting more accurately with scissors
- Zipping, buttoning, and fastening clothes without help
- Writing large letters
- Fitting smaller puzzle pieces (between 50-200+) together
- Using spoons and forks more easily
Activities to Encourage Fine Motor Development
Giving your child more chances to practice their fine motor skills in early childhood will help them develop. Try some of these daily-life activities:
- Draw or color together. This relaxing activity will give you a chance to connect with your child while they practice using a crayon or marker. It’s also an opportunity for your child to use scissors under your supervision.
- Cook together. Allow your child to pour, stir, or mix while you watch. You can also teach your child to pour her own drink or set the table.
- Play games or put a puzzle together. Rolling dice, holding or flipping cards, and connecting puzzle pieces all require fine motor skills.
- Make fine motor challenges. Let your child sort buttons by shape or color. Have your child drop coins into a container through a slot in the lid. Place pom poms in a container and have your child remove them with large tweezers. Set up a water mixing station and give your child a pipette or turkey baster to practice pinching.
- Do everyday chores together. Teach your child to sweep up crumbs from the table and wipe with a wet cloth. Have them clean the doorknobs around the house. Little ones love to be helpful at this age — and you’ll get the added benefit of a cleaner house!
With a little creativity and patience, you can encourage your child to develop their fine motor skills in just about any situation.
Gross Motor Skills By Age
3-4 Year Olds
- Running with control
- Climbing ladders and jungle gyms
- Getting on and off furniture
- Walking up stairs with adult assistance
- Jumping with two feet together
- Standing on one foot (for a few seconds)
- Throwing large balls and catching them using their whole body
- Riding a tricycle or foot-propelled bike
- Walking on tiptoes
4-5 Year Olds
- Standing on one foot for more than 5 seconds
- Jumping on one foot or alternating feet
- Skipping and galloping
- Running around obstacles
- Catching a large ball with their hands
- Throwing overhand at a target
- Walking on a line
- Walking independently up stairs with alternating feet
- Kicking a ball forwards
Activities to Encourage Gross Motor Development
Practicing gross motor skills can be part of daily life, too. Watch your child grow in confidence as he or she gets stronger. Try some of the simple activities below:
- Do family exercises together. Children love imitating adults! They also love showing off their abilities. Include things like balancing, cross-body movements, and jumping. So next time you do yoga or a YouTube workout video, invite your kiddo to join you.
- Play outdoor games. Playing toss includes throwing and catching. You can also kick or roll a ball back and forth.
- Go for a walk. While your child has already mastered how to walk, they still need to navigate their environment. Make it fun by having them jump over sidewalk cracks with two feet — or race them down a straightaway. If you have a family pet, share the leash or let your child hold it by herself.
- Have a dance party. Does your child love music? Play some music and dance together. Dancing is a whole-body exercise that can help your child learn rhythm as they stomp, clap, or spin to the music.
- Do everyday chores together. Teach your child to make the bed, pick up their toys, or sweep the floor. Even chores can teach coordination!
Not only are you helping your little one develop new skills, you’re also having fun and making memories together.
How to Address a Motor Delay
There are times when a delay in motor skills might require professional help. If your child constantly walks on tiptoe, has difficulty running, falls frequently, or can’t maneuver stairs — they may have gross motor delays. Signs of fine motor delays may be dropping items, trouble with coloring or writing, or difficulty holding utensils.
If you notice these symptoms in your child, talk to your pediatrician. Your child may need to work with an Occupational Therapist. With help, your child can learn the skills they need.
Keep Celebrating Your Child’s Milestones!
We use fine and gross motor skills in everyday life. You can continue to celebrate your child’s developmental milestones as he or she gets older. Get excited with your child when they catch a ball three times in a row, successfully complete a puzzle, or draw a picture of a flower.
Everyday life can have a little wonder in it when you know what to look for.
Join Us in a Game of Toss
- Something to toss (ball, scarf, bean bag, or even a stuffed animal)
- Wide open space like a yard or park
Try these different ways to toss the object:
- Throw underhand back and forth
- Throw overhand back and forth
- Toss with one hand and catch with two
- Toss and clap once before catching
- Throw under one leg and try catching
- Make up your own crazy way to toss — the sillier the better!
Tossing objects is fun, even when you don’t catch them. It’s a chance to be silly and practice motor skills — a win-win for everyone!
Or, instead of playing toss, teach your child a game that you played as a child. Can you figure out which motor skills the game uses?