Physical Development in Toddlers

Gross and Fine Motor Skills Develop Quickly in Toddlers

Child playing with and stacking blocks
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  • You might hear a health care professional or child care provider talk about your toddler's physical development. This term encompasses both fine motor and gross motor skills as well as whole body movement and sometimes even growth.

Gross and Fine Motor Skills

The expression "motor skills" refers to the body's ability to use muscles intentionally. As a child grows, his or her motor skills increase rapidly. An infant is not yet able to roll over, creep, or crawl. A two-year-old may be able to run, climb, and even draw.

  • Gross motor skills refer to actions using the large muscle groups. Examples of gross motor skills include jumping, walking, and crawling. As a child develops, he or she may use gross motor skills to throw and kick.
  • Fine motor skills are those skills that require the use of smaller muscles and more nuanced movements. Fine motor skills include the ability to write or draw, build with blocks, pull on socks, or fasten snaps.
  • Motor planning, also an important part of physical development, requires a child to have a sense of where his body is in space. The ability to kick a moving ball, or even to use the mouth and tongue to articulate words.

What Doctors and Care Providers Look For

Your toddler's health care provider will be concerned with not only where your child lands on a growth chart, but also if he's doing all the things that are typical for his age. During a well-child visit, for example, she will take your child's measurements as well as ask you questions about what your child is doing like walking, playing with a ball or using a crayon. She may also perform certain simple tests to see where your child is developmental. If there seem to be developmental delays, she may refer you to a child development specialist for a more comprehensive developmental assessment.

A child care provider will mostly be concerned with the development of your child's fine motor or gross motor skills. Child care providers can be very in tune with what is typical development and alert you to areas of concern. Centers may sometimes perform assessments to let you know how your toddler's physical development is progressing and to aid in programming appropriate activities.

Developmental Milestones for Toddlers

According to MedLine, a publication of the National Institutes of Health, the following are signs of expected physical development in a toddler.

Gross Motor Skills (use of large muscles in the legs and arms):

  • Stands alone well by 12 months
  • Walks well by 12 to 15 months (If a child is not walking by 18 months, talk to a provider.)
  • Learns to walk backward and up steps with help at about 16 to 18 months
  • Jumps in place by about 24 months
  • Rides a tricycle and stands briefly on one foot by about 36 months

Fine motor skills(use of small muscles in hands and fingers):

  • Makes tower of four cubes by around 24 months
  • Scribbles by 15 to 18 months
  • Can use spoon by 24 months
  • Can copy a circle by 24 months
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