Gross Motor Skills: What you need to know

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills involve movements of the whole body and of the large muscles of the arms, legs, and torso. Kids rely on gross motor skills to perform everyday functions, such as walking, running, jumping etc. at school and at home.

  • Gross motor skills are related to:
  • Ability to balance
  • Coordination of movements 
  • Body awareness
  • Physical strength
  • Reaction time
What do difficulties with gross motor skill commonly look like?

Children who struggle with gross motor skills have trouble doing whole-body movements and commonly display:

  • Developmental delays e.g. unable to crawl or sit up independently.
  • Avoidance of  physical tasks.
  • Rushed performance of  tasks to mask difficulty or fatigue.
  • Poor posture.
  • Difficulty in performing physical activities especially those involving sequences.
  • Clumsy movements (makes them more accident prone).
  • Low endurance (Participate in physical activity for only short periods).
  • Inability to follow multiple instructions to complete a physical task.
  • Inability to transfer a skill (use the same skill in different settings).
Factors That Affect Gross Motor Development 

There are many factors that can affect the development of gross motor skills:

  • A sedentary lifestyle, accompanied by too much rich food, means that adults are less likely to engage in physical games with their children. 
  • Underlying physical difficulties with coordination, balance, motor planning, and concentration 
  • These difficulties may also stem from other underlying conditions such as: 
  •  Dyspraxia
  • Cerebral Palsy
  •  Stroke
  •  Brain injury or trauma
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  •  Premature birth
  •  Neurological impairment
  • Developmental delays
  • Developmental coordination disorder
  • Abnormal muscle tone
Gross motor activity training

If a child has difficulties with gross motor skills it is recommended that they consult an Occupational Therapist and a physiotherapist if need be. An appropriate assessment process allows an occupational therapist to identify the nature of a child's difficulties with gross motor skills. Once identified, a treatment plan is drafted according to the child’s needs. 

One of the major types of treatment used by Occupational Therapists is Gross motor activity training. It aims to improve gross motor functioning e.g. balance or hand-eye coordination. Gross motor activity training can:

  • Improve balance.
  • Improve coordination.
  • Improve perception skills.
  • Improve confidence.
  • Promote independence and ability.
  • Strengthens muscles.
  • Improved ability to understand instructions. 
  • improve performance in physical exercises and sports.
  • Improve motor planning.
What can I do at home to improve a child’s gross motor skills?
  • Use exercises to strengthen core muscles and improve stability.
  • Work on endurance and strength, coordination and balance, attention, awareness of body and space through different activities and games.
  • Break physical tasks down into easy steps.
  • In order to develop stamina, use a graded approach to intensity and duration of tasks.
  • Try to improve the child’s ability to plan tasks (e.g. asking the child to verbally state a required task and steps to achieve it before performing it).
Activities that can help improve gross motor skills: 
  1. Play hopscotch 
  2. Play Simon Says for improving movement planning
  3. Practice balancing e.g. Walking/climbing over unstable surfaces (e.g. large pillows) as it increases overall body strength.
  4. Play catch. Start with large sized balls and eventually move on to smaller ones.
  5. Obstacle races, to combine lots of gross motor skills together into one practice.
  6. Spend time at the Playground e.g. climbing and running
  7. Swimming improves coordination