Fine and Gross Motor Skills in Children

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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, but not every child will reach 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, they 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

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

3 to 6 Months

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

6 to 9 Months

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

9 to 12 Months

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

12 to18 Months

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

18 Months to 2 Years

  • 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
  • Puts rings on pegs

2 Years

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

3 Years

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

4 Years

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

5 Years

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

6 Years

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

Children with neurological problems or developmental delays may have difficulty with fine motor skills and may need occupational therapy, modifications, or assistive technology. 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

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

6 Months to 1 Year

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

1 Year

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

2 Years

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

3 Years

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

4 Years

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

5 Years

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

6 Years

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

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
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