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7.5: Motor Skill Development

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    Early childhood is a time when children are especially attracted to motion and song. Days are filled with jumping, running, swinging and clapping and every place becomes a playground. Even the booth at a restaurant affords the opportunity to slide around in the seat or disappear underneath and imagine being a sea creature in a cave! Of course, this can be frustrating to a caregiver, but it’s the business of early childhood.

    Gross Motor Skills

    Children continue to improve their gross motor skills as they run and jump. They frequently ask their caregivers to “look at me” while they hop or roll down a hill. Children’s songs are often accompanied by arm and leg movements or cues to turn around or move from left to right.

    Gross Motor Milestones

    Here is a table showing the progression of gross motor skills that children will typically develop during early childhood:

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Gross Motor Milestones (Developmental Milestones by the CDC is in the public domain)

    Typical Age What Most Children Do by This Age
    3 years
    • Climbs well
    • Runs easily
    • Pedals a tricycle (3-wheel bike)
    • Walks up and down stairs, one foot on each step
    4 years
    • Hops and stands on one foot up to 2 seconds
    • Catches a bounced ball most of the time
    5 years
    • Stands on one foot for 10 seconds or longer
    • Hops; may be able to skip
    • Can do a somersault
    • Can use the toilet on own
    • Swings and climbs

    Activities to Support Gross Motor Skills

    Here are some activities focused on play that young children enjoy and that support their gross motor skill development.

    • Tricycle
    • Slides
    • Swings
    • Sit-n-Spin
    • Mini trampoline
    • Bowling pins (can use plastic soda bottles also)
    • Tent (try throwing blankets over chairs and other furniture to make a fort)
    • Playground ladders
    • Suspension bridge on playground
    • Tunnels (try throwing a bean bag chair underneath for greater challenge)
    • Ball play (kick, throw, catch)
    • Simon Says
    • Target games with bean bags, ball, etc.
    • Dancing/moving to music
    • Pushing self on scooter or skateboard while on stomach
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Children riding tricycles together. (Image by Hanscom Air Force Base is in the public domain)

    Fine Motor Skills

    Fine motor skills are also being refined as they continue to develop more dexterity, strength, and endurance. Fine motor skills are very important as they are foundational to self-help skills and later academic abilities (such as writing).

    Fine Motor Milestones

    Here is a table showing how fine motor skills progress during early childhood for children that are typically developing.

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\): Fine Motor Milestones (Developmental Milestones by the CDC is in the public domain)

    Typical Age What Most Children Do by This Age
    3 years
    • Copies a circle with pencil or crayon
    • Turns book pages one at a time
    • Builds towers of more than 6 blocks
    • Screws and unscrews jar lids or turns door handle
    4 years
    • Pours, cuts with supervision, and mashes own food
    • Draws a person with 2 to 4 body parts
    • Uses scissors
    • Starts to copy some capital letters
    5 years
    • Can draw a person with at least 6 body parts
    • Can print some letters or numbers
    • Copies a triangle and other geometric shapes
    • Uses a fork and spoon and sometimes a table knife

    Activities to Support Fine Motor Skills

    Here are some fun activities that will help children continue to refine their fine motor abilities. Fine motor skills are slower to develop than gross motor skills, so it is important to have age appropriate expectations and play-based activities for children.

    • Pouring water into a container
    • Drawing and coloring
    • Using scissors
    • Finger painting
    • Fingerplays and songs (such as the Itsy, Bitsy Spider)
    • Play dough
    • Lacing and beading
    • Practicing with large tweezers, tongs, and eye droppers
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Children coloring. (Image by Spangdahlem Air Base is in the public domain)

    This page titled 7.5: Motor Skill Development is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Paris, Ricardo, Raymond, & Johnson (College of the Canyons) .