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Gross Motor Development for Infants and Toddlers

Nov 12th, 2021 | by Cait Parr, PT, DPT

Cait Parr, PT, DPT

November 12th, 2021

You’ve probably heard your therapist, your pediatrician, or your friend who’s a parent talk about gross motor skills. But what are they, and why are they important? Babies learn so much through movement, and gross motor skills are a major aspect of their overall development. Movement is important to all of us, but especially to our developing little ones.  

Jump Ahead:

What are Gross Motor Skills? 

Gross motor skills are the abilities required to control the muscles of the body for large movements such as crawling, walking, jumping, running, and more. 

How Do Motor Skills Develop? 

Babies learn from head to toe. Our upper body muscle control develops before our lower body muscle control. As babies grow, they first develop control in their neck (head control) and trunk (sitting balance) and then they learn to control their shoulders, then elbows, wrists, and finally, their fingers. The same goes for the lower body, starting at the hips first, then learning to control their legs, feet, and eventually toes.  

As kids gain control of their body, they start to build up strength. Little ones need lots of opportunities to practice movement, because that’s how they learn and grow!

Importance of Gross Motor Skills 

Gross motor skill development helps children to build strength and confidence in their bodies. Kids also enjoy the same benefits of exercise and physical activity as adults do, which is important for a healthy lifestyle, no matter your age.  Developing gross motor skills helps a child grow in the ability to do more complex skills, such as navigating a new playground environment or playing a team sport.

3 Different Types of Gross Motor Movement:

1. Locomotion, which means movement!

Anything a child does to get from one spot to another is locomotion. Examples of gross motor skills in the locomotion category can include rolling, belly crawling, crawling on hands and knees, scooting, walking, running, climbing, leaping, jumping, and hopping. 

2. Stationary skills,which refers to movement in a stationary place.

Gross motor skills that are stationary include head control, sitting balance, standing on one or both legs, rising, falling, bending, stretching, pushing, pulling, swinging, swaying, twisting, and turning. 

3. Manipulation, which means moving objects in a variety of ways.

Think about all the things a child can do with a ball – they can roll, throw, catch, kick, stop, or bat a ball. All of these actions are manipulative gross motor skills. 

Gross Motor Skills for Infants/Babies

We typically see a range of development for each milestone, where kids may develop that skill in the few months before or after their peers. If you notice your child continuing to struggle with development of an age-appropriate milestone, please see your pediatrician to request a PT evaluation

Generally, gross motor development milestones for infants and toddlers are as follows: 

Newborn to 2 months:

  • Head lag with pull to sit 
  • Lifts head and able to turn to both sides while on belly (View our guide for mastering tummy time!)
  • Kicks both legs and moves both arms equally while on back 
  • Turns head to both sides while on back 

3-4 months :

  • Raises head in line with trunk when pulled to sit   
  • Pushes up on forearms and turns head side to side while on belly   
  • Rolls from belly to back  (Use these 3 tips to help teach your baby to roll over!)

5 months :

  • Brings feet to mouth laying on back   
  • Rolls from back to belly  
  • Pushes up on hands with arms extended while on belly   
  • Pivots in a circle on belly 

6-8 months:  

  • Catches self with loss of balance in sitting    
  • Crawls on belly   
  • Reaches for toys to play in sitting    
  • Sits independently    

9-11 months:

  • Crawls on hands and knees 
  • Cruises around furniture     
  • Moves between laying down and sitting upright without help   
  • Pulls to a standing position with one foot leading   
  • Walks with two hands held 

11-12 months:  

  • Walks with one hand held 
  • Stands independently for a few seconds 

13-14 months:  

  • Crawls up stairs   
  • Stands up from the floor without support    
  • Walks independently 
  • Squats and stands back up without support   

15-18 months:   

  • Walks up stairs with hands or rails to help   
  • Crawls down stairs on belly, feet first   
  • Kicks a ball forward 

Gross Motor Skills for 2, 3, 4, and 5-year-olds Develop as Follows: 

Gross Motor Skills for 2 Year Olds:

  • Walks and runs fairly well 
  • Kicks a ball with either foot 
  • Walks up and down stairs alone   
  • Jumps in place (both feet off the ground)   

Gross Motor Skills for 3 Year Olds:

  • Balances on one foot for a few seconds    
  • Catches a large ball    
  • Jumps forward 10-24 inches    
  • Rides a tricycle 

Gross Motor Skills by 4 Years Old:

  • Runs, jumps, and climbs well 
  • Hops on one foot   
  • Catches a ball 
  • Somersaults 

Gross Motor Skills by 5 Years Old:

  • Skips and jumps rope   
  • Starts to skate and swim   
  • Rides bicycle with or without training wheels     

Again, each child develops at their own pace, so these milestones are approximate. As gross motor skills development happens at these approximate ages and stages, they build upon each other. For example, a baby needs to be able to pull up to standing before they can walk.  

Find Additional Resources in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author 

Cait Parr is a pediatric physiotherapist at NAPA Center Los Angeles. Her favorite animal is snails, because they remind her to slow down and enjoy the beautiful details about life. She loves desserts almost as much as she loves long walks on the beach with her husband.  

About NAPA Centre

At NAPA Centre, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. If you’re interested in learning more, send us a contact form and our team will be in touch shortly!

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