Fine and Gross Motor Skills in Children

Children running

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Motor skills are skills that enable the movements and tasks we do on a daily basis. Fine motor skills are those that require a high degree of control and precision in the small muscles of the hand (such as using a fork). Gross motor skills use the large muscles in the body and include broader movements such as walking and jumping.

Typically, children develop certain motor skills at specific ages, though not every child will reach these milestones at precisely the same time. A child with motor impairments has trouble moving in a controlled, coordinated, and efficient way. If your child seems to be delayed in developing fine or gross motor skills, he or she will likely undergo an assessment and may require physical or occupational therapy to catch up.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skill activities involve manual dexterity and often require coordinating movements of the hands and fingers with the eyes; this is called hand-eye coordination.

Components of fine motor skills include being able to grip and manipulate objects, use both hands for a task, and use just the thumb and one finger to pick something up, rather than the whole hand.

Here are just a few examples of fine motor skills that typically occur at different phases of development:

0 to 3 Months

  • Watches her hands move and brings them to her mouth
  • Can use arms to swing or "bat" at objects

3 to 6 Months

  • Can reach for toys using both arms
  • Begins to transfer objects from one hand to another
  • Can hold own hands together

6 to 9 Months

  • Begins to grasp & hold onto objects, such as a bottle
  • Uses a raking grasp to move objects with fingers
  • Squeezes objects

9 to 12 Months

  • Feeds himself finger foods
  • Can turn pages in a book a few pages at a time
  • Can put small objects in a cup or container
  • Develops pincer grasp (using index finger and thumb to grasp objects)
  • Begins to show a preference for one hand over the other

12 to18 Months

  • Can build a tower two blocks high
  • Claps hands
  • Waves goodbye
  • Can scoop objects with a spoon or small shovel
  • Scribbles with crayons on paper

18 Months to 2 Years

  • Puts rings on pegs
  • Begins holding a crayon with fingertips and thumb
  • Can build a tower three to four blocks high
  • Can open loosely wrapped packages or containers
  • Can turn pages in a book one page at a time

2 Years

  • Manipulates clay or play dough
  • Can stack a block tower 9 blocks high
  • Can turn doorknobs
  • Can wash hands independently
  • Can zip and unzip large zippers

3 Years

  • Can draw a circle after being shown an example
  • Can cut a piece of paper in half
  • Can fasten and unfasten large buttons

4 Years

  • Can touch the tip of each finger to the thumb
  • Can use a fork correctly
  • Can get dressed and undressed without help

5 Years

  • Grasps a pencil correctly
  • Copies a triangle shape
  • Can cut out a circle
  • Ties shoelaces

6 Years

  • Builds a small structure with blocks
  • Can put a 16 to 20 piece puzzle together
  • Uses a knife to cut food
  • Cuts well with scissors

Children with neurological problems or developmental delays may have difficulty with fine motor skills and may need occupational therapy to help them catch up or modifications or assistive technology to keep up with schoolwork. The focus should be on developmental milestones and the skills they need for school and play.

Activities that might improve fine motor skills include picking up objects with tongs, building with blocks, and doing craft projects.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are movements that involve large muscle groups and are generally more broad and energetic than fine motor movements. These include walking, kicking, jumping, and climbing stairs. Some milestones for gross motor skills also involve eye-hand coordination, such as throwing or catching a ball.

Here are some examples of gross motor skills that typically occur at different phases of development:

3 to 6 Months

  • Supports own head when in a sitting position
  • Raises arms and legs when placed on the stomach
  • Rolls over

6 Months to 1 Year

  • Sits without support
  • Crawls
  • Pulls self from a sitting to a standing position

1 Year

  • Walks with one hand held
  • Climbs onto low furniture
  • Climbs stairs with assistance
  • Pulls or pushes toys with wheels

2 Years

  • Runs very stiffly on toes
  • Jumps using both feet simultaneously
  • Walks upstairs without a banister

3 Years

  • Throws a ball to an adult standing five feet away
  • Runs without falling
  • Rides tricycle using pedals, unassisted by an adult

4 Years

  • Walks upstairs by alternating feet
  • Runs smoothly with changes in speed
  • Catches a ball with arms and body

5 Years

  • Hops on one foot
  • Performs jumping jacks and toe touches
  • Walks up and down the stairs while carrying objects
  • Catches a ball with two hands

6 Years

  • Jumps over objects 10 inches high
  • Rides a bicycle with training wheels
  • Throws with accurate placement
  • Kicks rolling ball

It may be easier to notice if your child isn't reaching gross motor skill milestones than fine motor milestones because you're probably eagerly anticipating your baby rolling over, crawling, pulling themselves up along furniture, and taking their first step. As a child grows, you note when they are running and playing and how well they do in physical games and sports.

Children with neurological problems, developmental delays, or disabilities that affect movement may receive physical therapy to help with gross motor skills or may need modifications or assistive technology to keep up with mobility or athletics.

A Word From Verywell

While each child is different, don't hesitate to discuss any concerns about your child's motor skills with your pediatrician. If your child is referred to occupational therapy or physical therapy, you will be involved in the therapy and will be given instructions on how to work with your child at home to build his motor skills.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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