What are gross motor skills (and why are they important)?

From almost the moment you are born, you’re developing and working on a series of skills that allow you to move and function in particular ways. Known as gross motor skills, these are the first major muscular skills a baby will begin to control and a core set of abilities needed before delicately honing them into what will become fine motor skills. Read on to find out what is classed as a gross motor skill, what impact they have on our day to day lives and ways in which these motor skills can be developed. 

What are gross motor skills?

Gross motor skills are physical movements which involve the whole body and involve large sets of muscles, including standing, walking, jumping, and sitting upright. They also cover a variety of hand-eye coordination skills such as throwing, catching or kicking a ball, swimming, or riding a bike or scooter. 

How are they different from fine motor skills?

Whilst gross motor skills are concerned with larger movements of the limbs and torso, once you begin to focus on smaller movements and concentrated hand-eye coordination, these skills become known as fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are needed to write, to type, to fasten buttons and tie laces. However, in terms of child development, it is not until a large proportion of gross motor skills are mastered that fine motor skills can be developed as, without the muscular discipline achieved through gross motor skills, more delicate movements cannot be accomplished. 

Why are they so important?

Not only do gross motor skills give you the tools needed to enjoy an active lifestyle, they’re also the foundations for being able to care for yourself. It is through developed gross motor skills that you can dress yourself (being able to balance while you pull a trouser leg up) or get out of bed without help, to carry a bag of shopping or navigate your daily commute. 

Can you help improve gross motor skills?

There are specific milestones that children are expected to reach in relation to gross motor skills as they grow and at each stage parents can help their development with different activities. Young infants can strengthen their cores by having daily tummy time and free play aimed at encouraging wriggling, neck strengthening and, eventually crawling and walking. Toddlers can increase muscle strength and balance by going for walks, playing in parks or climbing and exploring homemade obstacle courses. Preschoolers can brush up on their balance skills by learning to ride bikes or three-wheeled scooters such as those produced by RiiRoo which aim to strengthen core muscles and coordination or by learning to swim. In truth, there aren’t really any physical activities that don’t develop gross motor skills in some way – as long as there’s movement, there’ll be improvement. 

It is gross motor skills and fine motor skills that allow us to actively participate in life through both large and small movements. However, gross motor skills are the building blocks on which all fine movements are built, and which define all of our more intricate abilities.