Gross Motor Skills

Gross Motor Skills

What are gross motor skills?


Movement skills are also known as motor skills and can be broken into two broad areas: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. The two are not mutually exclusive and gross control needs to be well developed in order for a child to be able to produce finely controlled movements. Gross motor skills are needed for everyday activities such as walking, standing or running. They require strong core muscles and the ability to coordinate the hand and eye to produce a fluid movement such as throwing, catching or kicking a ball.

Under developed gross motor skills may impact a child’s academic performance. For example they may not be able to tolerate a full day at school without extreme fatigue, struggle to sit up right at a desk for sustained periods of time or move between classrooms with ease.

There are many component skills to gross motor activity that need to be developed in unison in order for successful achievement of the planed task. These include:

  • Muscle strength
    this refers to a child’s ability to exert force against resistance.
  • Muscular endurance
    this the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to exert force repeatedly against resistance without fatigue.
  • Motor (movement) planning
    This enables a child to be able to plan and execute movements with minimal effort and without conscious thought so they can move their body with appropriate sequencing and timing to perform fluid and controlled movements.
  • Motor learning
    the child’s ability to change their movements as a result of past experience or practice.
  • Postural control
    This is the ability of a child to stabilise their trunk and neck allowing the coordinated movement of all their limbs i.e. arms and legs
  • Sensory processing
    this is a child’s ability to accurately register take in and respond to sensory from their own bodies and from the world around them and respond appropriately.
  • Body awareness
    this is the child’s ability to know their body parts are and understanding their body’s movement in space in relation to their limbs and any objects around them.
  • Balance
    this is a child’s ability to maintain a static (still) or dynamic (moving) position.
  • Coordination.
  • Crossing Midline
    This refers to the ability of a child to cross the imaginary line running from their nose to their tummy and divides the body into the left and right sides.
  • Proprioception
    this is way that a child’s brain receives information from their muscles and joints to make them aware of body position and body movements.
  • Muscle Tone

How would I notice gross motor difficulties?

  • A child that is having difficulty with their gross motor skills may present as clumsy or uncoordinated. 
  • They may have difficulty with everyday tasks.
  • Late in reaching developmental milestones for example sitting, walking rolling.
  • The child may appear awkward or clumsy on movement
  • They may choose to avoid as much physical activity as possible
  • The child tires easily,  therefore only participates in physical activities for short periods of time
  • The child may appear “floppy” or slumps when sitting on the floor
  • The child may leans their hands on the desk and head on their hands when doing table top activities.
  • Appears to be delayed in comparison with their peer’s sports such as swimming, riding a bike or football.
  • The child may be unable to complete tasks involving complex sequences of movements such as an obstacle course
  • The child struggles to plan and sequence for example step forward before throwing or hop scotch.
  • The child may be unsafe during some gross motor activities such as climbing, running or jumping
  • The child requires more effort than their peers to complete a task.
  • Difficulties with gross motor skills can impact on other areas of development. 

When you see gross motor difficulties, a child may also have difficulties with:

  • The child may have difficulties staying engaged in a task and have problems with attention and concentration
  • They may struggle with heir fine motor skills for drawing and other pencil skills
  • They may have difficulties writing and drawing for long periods of time, complaining of fatigue and pain
  • Their activities of daily living such as dressing independently, holding and using cutlery may be delayed
  • The child may have low energy levels
  • The child seems tired or lethargic and takes longer to respond to stimuli around them
  • The child may have Sensory processing difficulties
  • The child may not be able to manipulation of small objects in their hands.

How can therapy help with gross motor skills?

In order to work on fine motor skills the therapist will assess what areas the child is struggling with and help them work on these specific issues. They may include working on:

  • Improving attention and alertness – to help the child prepare and respond quickly to different situations such as when they lose their balance or changes to the environment around them.
  • Strengthening the core- work on the large muscle groups needed for stability including the stomach, chest and back muscles.
  • Education -Teaching strategies to help then bread down activities into their component parts such as playing hop scotch.
  • Endurance – Gradually increase duration and intensity of activity to increase endurance. This is often referred to as “grading of an activity”.
  • Sensory processing – this is necessary to ensure the body is receiving and interpreting the correct messages from their muscles in terms of their position, their relationship to each other, the speed at which they move and how much force they are using.
  • Multi-sensory approach – this may be used to enable the child to learn new skills and ensure they have best chance at learning appropriate strategies to respond to a physical demand or challenge.
  • Cognitive planning strategies – can be used to talk the child through tasks.
  • Look at other underlying skills needed  support whole body skills, such as providing activities to support:
    • balance and coordination
    • strength and endurance
    • attention and alertness
    • body awareness
    • movement planning

Example of the kind of activities that can help improve gross motor skills include:

  • Hop Scotch for hopping, or other games that encourage specific skill practice.
  • Simon Says for body awareness and movement planning
  • Wheelbarrow walking races for upper body strength.
  • Walking over unstable surfaces for example bean bags as this requires a lot of effort and increases overall body strength.
  • Playing catch with a large balloon and only after the skill is mastered, move to a smaller sized ball.
  • Standing with one foot on a ball while catching another ball.
  • Age appropriate obstacle courses
  • Playground climbing and swinging
  • Swimming