Gross Motor Skills Development in Babies and Toddlers

Gross motor skills are an important part of your child’s development, from infancy to the busy preschool years. Rolling, sitting up, crawling and learning to walk are all big milestones in your child’s growth. This article will help you to look out for and encourage these important steps towards independence as well as providing tips on how you can support your baby or toddler as they hone their skills and start to explore the world around them.

What Are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills are the big movements that your child makes as they develop and strengthen their muscles, learning to balance and coordinate their movements. These start with holding up their head, rolling, swiping and kicking. As your baby starts to get more active, they will start to coordinate these gross motor movements, learning to sit up without support, crawl, wave their arms and start to walk. Your child develops their gross motor skills over time, learning to coordinate their movements with the support of healthy muscles, bones and nerves.

Difference Between Fine and Gross Motor Skills

You may have heard of one or both of these terms, and indeed, they are a little different. Gross motor skills in early childhood come from the large body muscles, such as those in the arms and legs, and are characterised by strong movements like kicking, wriggling and moving the head. Your child could use all of its body for these movements. Fine motor skills are much smaller, more precise movements that a child makes with, for instance, his or her fingers and hands. These could be picking things up, turning buttons on a toy or fiddling with things. Both fine and gross motor skills come from the complex coordination of body muscles and the nervous system, including your child’s brain. Gross motor skills are tremendously important: your baby will develop them before fine motor skills as these are the skills needed to move independently. These skills will continue to aid the growth and development of your little one even as he or she starts to hone his or her fine motor skills and progress through the physical milestones for their age. Below are some examples of the differences between gross and fine motor skills:

Gross motor skills: strong movements such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling, waving arms and legs, standing up alone, walking, running and jumping, riding a bike or pushing a wheeled toy.

Fine motor skills: grasping objects in the hand, picking things up between the fingers, stacking blocks, eating food without help (using fingers, a spoon or fork), drawing and scribbling, cutting (using safety scissors), zipping clothing, tying things.

Handy tip:

When your child is big enough to sit up, take them outdoors where they can have the freedom to move around, for instance on grassy areas or on a beach. This will help them develop muscle strength and stamina as well as providing interest and excitement.


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Gross Motor Skills From Birth to Toddler

The motor skills listed above will develop in time as your child progresses from baby to toddler and pre-schooler. Motor skills that are important for your baby, like swiping, rolling and crawling will progress to walking, running and climbing in a toddler – and expect to be kept on your toes as your toddler becomes an active pre-schooler. Each age will have its own appropriate stage of gross motor skills development. Here are some gross motor skills milestones that you can look out for in your growing baby: 2 months: your baby will turn their head from side to side, wave arms and legs, wriggle

4 months: baby will raise their head, hold their head without support when sitting, can hold hands together

6 months: sitting up without support, rolling from back to tummy, trying to crawl, playing with their feet, swiping at things

9 months: baby can sit up from lying down and may start to crawl now, they may try to pull themselves up to stand and can roll about with ease

12 to 18 months: from around his or her first birthday, your little one will go from shuffling around on their bottom and standing up alone to walking (but probably falling a lot), crawling up stairs and pushing toys round Remember that although quite a few children learn to walk at about 12 months of age, everyone is different: some will be quicker and some will take their time in learning this new skill.

Handy tip

When your child starts to walk on his or her own, you may start thinking about shoes for exploring the great outdoors. The bones in children’s feet are still developing up to 18 months of age, so going barefoot is best when you can. When shoe shopping, look for flexible, closed-toe shoes with grippy soles.


Gross Motor Skills From Toddler to Pre-Schooler

This is the time when you will be kept on your feet at all times, running after an active toddler as they find their own way around and start exploring. 2 years: your toddler will have started running around and will enjoy climbing on the sofa or anywhere else they can reach! They will be able to go up and downstairs (with your help) and will be able to navigate around things. They will enjoy push-along toys and toys that can be ridden on. 3 years: running fast, jumping, trying to catch balls, climbing and using play equipment… 3-year-olds need lots of opportunity to practise these newfound gross motor skills and your local park could come in handy right now. 4 to 5 years: your pre-schooler will be able to go up and down stairs one foot at a time, hop, skip and jump around with good coordination and balance on one foot. They will be able to pedal a trike and will probably enjoy catching and throwing a ball. They may be able to swing themselves on a swing and will be climbing strongly.

 Handy tip:

Your child may be old enough to start exploring, but they are not old enough to recognise danger. Balls can roll into the road, and children don’t think to check for cars before they run after it. They might also try to go paddling or climb in places that are not safe for them. You will need to keep an eye out for their safety while they play.


Activities to Develop Gross Motor Skills

Watching your baby grow into an active child is exciting and fun. You can play games with them and enjoy activities like walking, swimming and cycling as they practise their newfound skills. These skills can be helped and encouraged by you, too; there are lots of activities that will help your child achieve his or her gross motor skills milestones. Activities for babies can be fun, too. The following are a few ideas for things that you can enjoy together.


Toddler Development
Fine Motor Skills in Babies and Toddlers

Gross Motor Skills Activities for Babies

  • Tummy time. You can start tummy time from birth, lying baby on their tummy on your chest. This gives them a chance to start strengthening neck muscles, as they will begin to raise their head and look about. A 4-month-old baby (or older) can do tummy time on the floor. Some babies will not like tummy time very much! You can make it a bit more fun by placing toys just out of reach to stimulate their curiosity. Baby will start to push with their arms and legs when they are laid on their tummy. This will improve muscle strength and coordination.

  • Supported sitting. This will help your baby learn how to balance when sitting upright. You can support them with your hands or use something soft, like a pillow. That way they can enjoy a bit of support but also have the freedom to try to sit up on their own, building their abdominal strength.

  • Crawling. At around 7 to 10 months of age (or a little older), your baby will have started crawling about. Crawling is a great way to build gross motor skills and muscle strength. You can help encourage this by tempting your child with toys placed just out of reach. Watch them as they try to get the toys, and have fun adding things for them to look at!

  • Obstacle course. Once your little one has mastered crawling, you can create a soft obstacle course. Use pillows, cushions, blankets and/or boxes and let your child have fun crawling around or through the course, with you close at hand to cheer them on and supervise. Of course, don't leave your baby alone with an obstacle course, as your little one might get frightened or become trapped.

Gross Motor Skills Activities for Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers

Little children enjoy their independence and mobility, and can usually keep themselves busy from morning till night. They may find it fun to meet and play with their peers, and you may find yourself taking them on playdates to meet other children to play with. Younger children tend to play alongside each other rather than interacting – this is what is called parallel play – and this too can involve gross motor skills activities. Below are some ideas for games and activities you can do with your child, alone or with their young friends.

Playing outdoors. Toddlers can be tremendously energetic, and what better place for them to let off steam than going outdoors? Running around the garden or in a park will help them to build strength and fine-tune their gross motor skills. They will also enjoy climbing frames and play equipment. Keep an eye out for your toddler while he or she runs, as children of such young age can still easily trip and hurt themselves.

Creative and interactive play. At about 3 years of age, your toddler might be less interested in simply running around and may start to take an interest in specific activities. Playing games with a ball, like catch, or spending time with toys in a sandpit will help your child to develop his or her gross motor skills. Children also love to dance to their favourite music.

Housework and playing shop. Children love to copy us and many cannot wait to pick up a brush or mop to help out with the housework. If your child seems interested, let them have a go: maybe give them a cloth so that they can wipe things, or let them brush up. Children also like to play games based on cooking, shopping, fetching and carrying things. They may want to help with the washing by bringing you clothes, or help you prepare simple food items. They find chores interesting and while they are being helpful, they are developing skills and coordination too!

In summary

Activities to promote gross motor skills can start from birth, with tummy time, and continue with supported sitting, crawling games and obstacle courses as your baby starts getting more active. After about 12 months old, running and outdoor play become important in helping your child get better balance and control. Play equipment can be fun as well as creative games like catching a ball or digging in the sand.


Delay in Gross Motor Skills

Children typically start to develop motor skills from the top (their head) down to their feet. This means that your baby’s first strong movements will be moving and controlling their head, followed by their upper body. This leads to rolling over, and so on. Children develop at different rates, so don't be surprised if your child doesn’t reach gross motor skills milestones at the exact ages suggested above. Look out for steady progression instead. If you have questions about what your child is or is not doing at a certain age, or if you are concerned about possible delays in gross motor skills, you can always talk to your health visitor or GP. All children develop and learn skills at different rates.


Lifting the head, waving arms, wriggling and kicking. Later on, crawling, walking, running, jumping and climbing, amongst others.

The Bottom Line

Children grow and develop at different rates, and as you follow your child's own unique path, you’ll have plenty of gross motor skills development milestones to celebrate. From your baby turning their head to look at you to pushing up on their arms at tummy time, each new skill is helping them towards being able to get about independently. It is exciting when your child learns to bottom-shuffle or crawl, and those first hesitant steps are a joy to watch. Some of the best moments of parenthood are when your child learns a new skill, like catching a ball, riding a tricycle or bike – and even turning somersaults on the grass! But remember, if you think your child is slower than others in learning to crawl, stand or walk, they are probably doing everything in their own time and there is nothing to worry about. Your health visitor or GP is always there to talk to if you have any concerns. By the time your toddler turns into a pre-schooler, you will most likely be rushing to keep up with them as they dance, climb and run around everywhere!

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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