Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are the large, sweeping movements we make with arms, legs and torso. We develop these skills from birth to adolescence. Healthcare providers have benchmarks — or milestones — for different gross motor skills at different age ranges. Talk to your child’s provider about what you should expect at different age levels.

Examples of gross motor skills include standing, walking, waving your arm, bending over, swimming and more.
Gross motor skills are the movements we make with large muscles, like those in our legs, arms and torso.

What are gross motor skills?

Gross motor skills are the movements we make with large muscles, like those in your legs, arms and torso. “Gross,” in this case, means “large,” and “motor” means “movement.” Walking and waving your arm are examples of gross movements.

Gross motor skills require proper coordination and function of:

  • Skeletal muscles (the strength and power behind the movements).
  • Bones (the structures that your muscles attach to).
  • Nerves (the “messengers” of your brain that tell your muscles when and how to move).

They’re also related to other functions, including:

  • Balance.
  • Coordination.
  • Body awareness and spatial awareness.
  • Reaction time.

Issues with gross motor control can develop at any age. But healthcare providers put a lot of focus on gross motor skills in child development. Child development refers to how your child grows and changes over time.

Experts divide child growth and development into four areas:

  • Physical development. Gross motor skills fall under this category.
  • Cognitive development.
  • Language development.
  • Social-emotional development.

Providers assess gross motor skills because delays in these milestones can be a sign of certain neurological conditions. And the sooner your child’s provider can catch it, the sooner your child can get the help they need.

Examples of gross motor skills

Examples of everyday movements that are gross motor skills include:

  • Standing.
  • Walking.
  • Running.
  • Sitting upright without a back support.
  • Chewing.
  • Jumping.
  • Twisting your torso.
  • Bending over.
  • Moving/twisting your neck.
  • Raising your arms and hands.
  • Waving your arm.

Examples of hand-eye and foot-eye coordination skills that are also gross motor skills include:

  • Throwing and catching a ball.
  • Kicking a ball.
  • Doing a cartwheel.
  • Skipping.
  • Swimming.
  • Riding a bike or skateboard.
  • Rollerblading or ice skating.

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What’s the difference between gross and fine motor skills?

Gross motor skills involve large muscle groups and large movements. Fine motor skills are the small, precise movements we make with our:

  • Wrists, hands and fingers.
  • Ankles, feet and toes.

The key difference between the two lies in the location and degree of movement. For example, writing involves fine motor skills — it requires small, precise muscle movements in your fingers and wrist. Waving your arm is a gross motor skill — it requires large, sweeping muscle movements in your shoulder and upper arm. Your core muscles also support this motion.

But both types of skills require complex coordination of your muscles, bones and nervous system. Infants develop gross motor skills before they develop fine motor skills.

Why are gross motor skills important?

Movements are a part of everyday life. Our bodies change as our gross motor skills develop and vice versa. New or improved gross motor skills allow us to explore more of our environment. This then allows more and more opportunities for learning and doing.

More specifically, gross motor skills are essential for mobility, independence and overall health. Having difficulties with gross motor skills can impact several areas of your life. They can make it hard to do key tasks and can take a toll on your confidence and self-esteem.


What are gross motor skills in child development?

Gross motor skills typically begin in infancy and keep improving throughout childhood. Healthcare providers and parents keep track of these improvements with developmental milestones. They’re the behaviors that mark stages of typical growth. Children all develop at their own pace. However, most children pass through specific changes at roughly the same time as they get older.

Examples of gross motor skill milestones for infants and children include (but aren’t limited to):

0 to 6 months:

  • Rolling over front to back and vice versa.
  • Sitting with support and eventually without support.

6 to 12 months:

  • Crawling forward on their belly.
  • Transitioning into different positions, like from sitting to being on all fours.
  • Walking while holding onto something for support.

12 to 18 months:

  • Sitting, crawling and walking.

18 months to 2 years:

  • Walking smoothly.
  • Trying out running.
  • Pulling or carrying a toy while walking.
  • Walking up and down stairs with support.

3 years:

  • Jumping in place with both feet together.
  • Walking on tiptoe.
  • Peddling a tricycle.
  • Catching a ball with their body (arms, hands and chest).

4 years:

  • Standing on one foot for up to five seconds.
  • Kicking a ball forward.
  • Walking straight on a line.
  • Running around obstacles.

5 years:

  • Walking backward from heel to toe.
  • Catching a small ball using their hands only.
  • Skipping forward after learning how.

6 years:

  • Walking on a balance beam.
  • Jumping rope.
  • Throwing and catching a ball predictably.

Gross motor skills continue to develop and strengthen after these ages. It’s important to remember that each child develops at their own pace. If you’re concerned about your child’s gross motor milestones, talk to their healthcare provider.

How do gross motor skills develop?

The first gross movements happen in fetal development. A fetus kicks and moves its arms while in the uterus. Most people tend to feel these kicks and punches around 19 weeks of pregnancy.

Gross motor skills continue to develop rapidly after birth as both involuntary (not by choice) reflexes and purposeful movements. For example, if you hold a newborn upright with their feet on a hard surface, they typically move their legs in a way that resembles walking. This is the “newborn stepping reflex.”

Purposeful movements tend to develop from the head down. Babies typically learn to first lift their heads while on their bellies. Then they learn to push up with their arms. Next, they usually learn to crawl using their arms and legs and eventually walk.

As their muscles get stronger and their brains continue to develop, the fine-tuning and number of gross motor skills grow. Gross motor skills continue to develop throughout childhood and adolescence. They get more complex. For example, by the age of 6, most kids can skip if someone shows them how. This movement requires a complex combination of muscle strength, balance, coordination and timing.

Babies and children learn a lot of gross motor skills by interacting with their environment. But there are also ways to help your child practice gross motor skills.

Gross motor skill activities

Play is a major way babies and children develop gross motor skills, especially goal-directed play. This means that the play is focused on a goal (like learning something new) or toward the completion of a task.

A few examples of ways to support your baby’s or child’s gross motor skill development include:

  • To encourage crawling, put your baby on their tummy and place an object just out of reach as you remain close by.
  • Put together age-appropriate obstacle courses to help your toddler or child learn balance skills and maneuvering.
  • Take your toddler or child to a park. They typically have several play activities and structures to practice different gross motor skills.
  • Encourage your child to play sports. Practice the relevant skills with them at home, like kicking a ball or hitting a ball with a bat.
  • Have your child help with age-appropriate tasks around the house, like wiping off the table or throwing something away. Even if they don’t do these tasks efficiently, it still helps them learn.

What causes gross motor skill difficulties?

Issues with any of the following body areas can affect gross motor skills:

Because of this, countless conditions can interfere with gross motor skills. The interference can range from mild to severe. There can also be delays in gross motor skills (that eventually develop) or permanent issues with these skills.

Conditions that can affect gross motor skills in babies and children include (but aren’t limited to):

Conditions that can affect gross motor skills in children and adults include (but aren’t limited to):

Conditions that can affect gross motor skills in adults include (but aren’t limited to):

When should I call my provider about gross motor skill issues?

If you’re worried your child isn’t reaching gross motor skill milestones, talk to their pediatrician. They’ll ask questions about your concerns and can perform tests.

If you or your child has a regression (decline) in gross motor skills, talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible, especially if the regression is sudden. This could be a sign of a serious underlying condition.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Gross motor skills evolve throughout your life from fetal development to adolescence. While simply exploring their environment can help infants and children develop these skills, there are activities you can do to help support their growth. If you’re concerned about your child’s gross motor skills, talk to their healthcare provider. Several conditions can interfere with these types of movements.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/18/2023.

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