What are gross motor skills and why are they important?

When we consider children’s development, we often talk about refining their fine motor skills. This helps children learn how to perform fiddly jobs such as drawing and colouring, and playing with smaller toys. What is not spoken about as often is gross, or large motor skills.

So what are gross or large motor skills, and why are they important?

Well firstly let’s look at what gross motor skills actually are. Simply put, they involve moving the bigger muscles in the body such as the arms and legs, and the torso. Large motor skills are an essential part of everyday living, and they should be encouraged as much as fine motor skills in a child’s development. Children who do not adequately develop their gross motor skills can go on to struggle with whole-body activities such as jumping and running, gardening and housework. This can often have an impact on a child’s confidence and self-esteem.

Most children pick these skills up automatically without too much encouragement – it’s a large part of learning how to balance and coordinate your body. Gross motor skills actually form the basis for learning how to make the smaller movements too – i.e. the fine motor skills.

If you notice that your child is not developing their gross motor skills like other children their age, then it’s important not to panic. There may be a number of reasons why they are delayed, and in most cases they catch up in their own good time. However, if it persists then it may be linked with a developmental coordination disorder called dyspraxia.

There are many ways in which you can improve gross motor skills, and it starts with working with an occupational therapist who will prescribe physio treatment and a number of other exercises that can start to improve things.

But there are things you can do at home to encourage the development of your child’s large motor skills too. More physical activities such as den-building and sports races are great ways to get them using the larger muscles in their body. Climbing walls and other challenge walls that encourage physicality as also very useful too. You could also try using a trampoline for balance and coordination, as well as core strength, or introduce a tricycle or scooter. Even a game of simple hopscotch gets them exercising their large motor skills.

Older children might like to try walking or rock climbing, swimming, dancing, cooking or even juggling to develop their gross motor skills.

If you have any concerns about your child’s development then your first port of call should be to consult with your healthcare provider who will assess your child and refer them for further treatment and assessment if required.