Gross Motor Skills Development: Newborn to 12 Years

Gross motor skills development is pivotal in a child’s growth, underpinning a vibrant, active, and adept way of life. This article explores the components, progression, and enhancement of gross motor skills from newborns to children aged 12.

What are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills involve the large muscles of the body that enable functions such as walking, standing, sitting upright, and running. These skills are essential for movement and coordination, playing a significant role in physical activities and sports.

Additionally, proficiency in these skills during childhood can significantly influence a child’s ability to perform everyday activities.

What are the Components of Gross Motor Skills?

Several key components work harmoniously to facilitate the development of gross motor skills:

  • Muscle Tone: This refers to the muscle’s readiness to activate when needed. Good muscle tone is necessary for any movement and is developed through activities that challenge the body’s muscles. For example, a child climbing a jungle gym uses various muscle groups, which helps to improve the muscle’s readiness to activate and support the body’s weight, enhancing muscle tone.
  • Balance: The ability to maintain a controlled body position during task performance, which is essential for all gross motor skills. When a child stands on one foot or walks along a balance beam, they’re practising the control of their body’s position.
  • Proprioception: This is the awareness of the body’s position in space, which is crucial for coordinating movements. Activities like jumping on a trampoline require a child to adjust their body’s position in response to the changing surface, thereby improving their awareness of their body in space.
  • Joint Stability: Stable joints provide the basis for strong movement and are developed through weight-bearing activities. Playing hopscotch involves repeated jumping and landing, which strengthens the joints of the lower body, contributing to joint stability.
  • Motor Planning: This involves the ability to conceive, plan, and carry out a skilled, non-habitual motor act in the correct sequence from beginning to end. Engaging in a new sport or learning a dance routine necessitates the child to think about and execute movements they have not performed before, which enhances their motor planning skills.
  • Bilateral Integration: This skill involves coordinating both sides of the body simultaneously in a harmonious manner. When a child uses a jump rope, both sides of the body must work together in a synchronized manner, thus improving their ability to coordinate movements bilaterally.
What are the Components of Gross Motor Skills?
What are the Components of Gross Motor Skills?

Activities to Enhance Development of Gross Motor Skills

Explore fun and effective activities designed to boost the development of gross motor skills in children.

Activities for Babies (Newborn to 12 months)

During their first year, infants experience swift developmental progress. Engaging them in activities that promote gross motor skills is key to their overall development. Here’s how caregivers can support this growth across different components:

  • Muscle Tone
    • Tummy Time: Encourage your baby to spend time on their tummy while awake and supervised. This strengthens neck and shoulder muscles, laying the groundwork for future milestones like sitting and walking.
  • Balance and Joint Stability
    • Assisted Sitting and Standing: With support, help your baby to sit and stand. This activity not only boosts muscle strength but also aids in developing balance and stabilizes joints as the baby learns to control their head and trunk.
  • Proprioception and Motor Planning
    • Crawling Games: Guide your baby in crawling toward a toy or parent. Crawling is a complex task requiring the baby to coordinate limb movements while supporting their own weight, enhancing their proprioception and motor planning.
  • Bilateral Integration
    • Playing with Balls: Roll a soft ball towards your baby and encourage them to roll it back. This simple play helps understand how to use both sides of the body simultaneously, a key aspect of bilateral integration.
Activities to Enhance Development of Gross Motor Skills
Activities to Enhance Development of Gross Motor Skills

Activities for Toddlers (1-3 years)

As toddlers become more mobile, it’s essential to nurture their burgeoning gross motor skills. Activities at this stage should be fun yet challenging, aiding their development in a structured way.

  • Muscle Tone and Balance (Gross Motor Skills for 0-2 Years)
    • Playing on Playground Equipment: Encourage toddlers to explore and play on age-appropriate playground equipment. Climbing up steps and sliding down slides helps to strengthen their muscles and develop a sense of balance as they navigate through different physical challenges.
  • Motor Planning and Bilateral Integration (Gross Motor Skills for 2-3 Years)
    • Dancing to Music: Dancing is an excellent way for toddlers to learn about rhythm and movement. It promotes motor planning as they figure out their next move, and bilateral integration as they use both sides of their body in harmony.
  • Proprioception and Joint Stability (Gross Motor Skills for 0-2 Years)
    • Jumping in Place or Hopping: Simple activities like jumping or hopping in place are not just fun but also critical for enhancing proprioception, as toddlers learn to judge how their body moves through space. This also strengthens their leg joints, which is vital for stability.
  • Coordination (Gross Motor Skills 2-3 for Years)
    • Riding Tricycles: Riding tricycles or other ride-on toys requires toddlers to use their legs to pedal, which enhances coordination and further develops muscle tone in the lower body.

Activities for Preschoolers (3-5 years)

At the preschool age, children are ready to take on new physical challenges that refine their gross motor skills. Here’s how you can guide them through gross motor skill activities for 3-5 year-olds that are both educational and enjoyable.

  • Motor Planning
    • Obstacle Courses: Set up a simple obstacle course that preschoolers can navigate. This stimulates their ability to think ahead and plan movements, enhancing motor planning. It’s a dynamic way to encourage children to assess tasks and determine the necessary actions to complete them.
  • Balance and Joint Stability
    • Balancing on One Foot: Challenge children to balance on one foot, which can be turned into a fun game. This activity boosts joint stability and hones balance, teaching the body to maintain control during stationary and dynamic tasks.
  • Muscle Tone and Proprioception
    • Climbing: Climbing strengthens arm and leg muscles and improves proprioceptive input as children must judge their body’s position and exertion. It’s an excellent way to build muscle tone and enhance awareness of their limbs in space.
  • Bilateral Integration
    • Playing Catch: Throwing and catching a ball involves using both hands together, which is a fundamental aspect of bilateral integration. This activity encourages the cooperative use of both sides of the body and aids in developing hand-eye coordination.
Activities for Preschoolers (3-5 years)
Activities for Preschoolers (3-5 years)

Activities for Grade Schoolers (5-12 years)

For grade schoolers, activities should not only continue to develop gross motor skills but also provide a challenge that keeps them engaged. Here’s a breakdown of activities that can aid in the advancement of their abilities:

  • Overall Gross Motor Skills Development
    • Team Sports: Involvement in team sports like soccer, basketball, or hockey offers comprehensive development of gross motor skills. These sports require running, jumping, and agility, providing a full-body workout that enhances muscle coordination and social skills.
  • Muscle Tone, Balance, and Coordination
    • Gymnastics or Martial Arts: Disciplines such as gymnastics and martial arts are particularly effective in improving muscle tone, balance, and coordination. The precise movements and poses in gymnastics and the disciplined techniques in martial arts require the body to work as a cohesive unit.
  • Motor Planning and Joint Stability
    • Skateboarding or Rollerblading: These activities demand a great deal of motor planning as children navigate various terrains and obstacles. The need to adjust body weight and maintain stability also helps to strengthen joints.
  • Bilateral Integration and Proprioception
    • Drumming: Learning to play the drums is an excellent way to develop bilateral integration as it requires using both hands and feet in coordination. It also enhances proprioception, as the child must judge the position and movement of their limbs to keep rhythm.
Activities for Grade Schoolers (5-12 years)
Activities for Grade Schoolers (5-12 years)

Challenges in Gross Motor Skills Development

Despite the natural progression, some children may face challenges in developing these skills. These issues may arise from a variety of sources, such as:

  • Genetic Predispositions: Certain genetic factors may influence motor skills development. For example, a family history of muscular dystrophy could affect muscle strength and coordination. While genetics can also govern natural athletic prowess and growth, they are just one piece of the developmental puzzle.
  • Lack of Physical Play Opportunities: Modern environments often lack suitable spaces for active play. Overcrowded schools may have limited physical education programme, and busy family lives can further restrict time for play, impacting skills like running, jumping, and hand-eye coordination.
  • Technologically Induced Sedentary Lifestyle: The prevalence of screens has led to increased sedentary behaviour among children, reducing engagement in physical activity necessary for muscular and coordination development.
Challenges in Gross Motor Skills Development
Challenges in Gross Motor Skills Development

Parents and Caregivers’ Role in Enhancing Gross Motor Skills Development for Kids

Parents and caregivers play a key role in nurturing children’s gross motor skills, with encouragement and the provision of diverse physical activities being essential. In the digital era, tech apps that promote activity, like interactive games requiring physical engagement, can enhance motor skills and tech literacy.

Yet, it’s essential to balance tech use with traditional play, avoiding an overdependence on screens, which might lead to a sedentary lifestyle. Screen time should be purposeful and limited to 1-2 hours per day for children, focusing on movement-enhancing activities.

Ensuring online safety is also critical. Parents should supervise content, verifying its appropriateness and security, to create a safe, constructive technological space for children.

Grow With UNIS Hanoi

Gross motor skills development is a journey that begins at birth and continues into adolescence. With the combined efforts of parents, caregivers, and educators, children can achieve milestones in their gross motor skills, setting them up for an active and healthy life. Visit UNIS Hanoi for our Elementary to Secondary programmes where a comprehensive approach to development is a priority. Also click here for our Elementary Schools’ PE teachers article about creating bespoke PE opportunities for each child.

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