Gross Motor Skills Development Timeline and Progression

toddler boy playing tee-ball
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Although every child is different, gross motor skills development typically occurs in a predictable pattern. Large muscles (arms, legs, and trunk) develop first, so kids master gross motor skills such as walking first. Small motor skills, which require control and dexterity in the hands and fingers, come later. You can also picture this as a progression from the center of the body (the core) outward toward the extremities (feet, hands, fingers).

Skills also develop from the top of the body down. Think of how a baby learns to first lift their head, then push up with their arms, then sit up without support, then push up to hands and knees, then crawl, and finally walk: Head first, lower legs last.

Timeline for Gross Motor Skills Development

Again, each child develops at their own pace, so these age guidelines are approximate. If you are concerned about your child's physical or gross motor skills development, check with their doctor or your school district's early intervention program (in the U.S.).

Generally, gross motor skills development happens at these ages and stages, and they build upon each other. A baby needs to be able to pull up to standing before they can test their balance and walk, for example.

  • By about 3 or 4 months, baby can raise their head and chest when lying on their belly.
  • At about 6 months, baby can roll over, both ways (from the stomach to back and back to stomach).
  • At about 7 months, baby can sit up without support.
  • At about 8 or 9 months, baby may start to crawl.
  • Between 12 and 18 months, baby can walk on their own. They're a toddler now!
  • At about 2 years, they can run, jump, and throw a ball.
  • At 3 years, they can walk on tiptoe, climb well, try to stand on one foot, gallop, jump, kick a ball, and try to skip.
  • Between 3 and 4 years, they can pedal a tricycle.
  • When they reach about 5 years, they can leap, hop, skip, and run.

Types of Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills can be grouped into different types.

  • Locomotor skills are those used to move the body from place to place, like walking and running.
  • Manipulative skills involve moving an object, such as a bat, ball, or jump rope.
  • Stability skills are related to balance and weight transfer—for example, standing on one foot or dodging an obstacle.

Gross motor skills aren't just important for physical fitness and sports. Kids need them for school success, too. That's partly because of the order and sequencing of development—the way new skills build on previous ones, and the way small muscles develop after large ones.

It's also because kids need to be able to sit at a desk or stand at a blackboard in order to write. And they need to be able to use balance and twisting skills to cross the midline (an imaginary vertical line dividing the right and left sides of the body), which they must do in order to read and write fluidly.

Encouraging Gross Motor Skills Development

The best way to help your child develop large motor skills is through plenty of active play. Give them lots of time, space, and opportunities to use their muscles.

Movement classes, like tumbling or dance, are fine, but free play is just as effective. There are tons of fun, skill-building activities, and toys you can share with your child. Even some arts and crafts projects can encourage physical fitness and development.

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Article Sources
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