What are Gross Motor Skills?
The term ‘gross motor skills’ refers to movements that either require moving your whole body or which involve the core muscles of the body to perform everyday tasks. Examples of gross motor skills include basic things such as standing and sitting in an upright position, as well as running, walking, jumping, riding a bike, swimming, or activities with a ball (throwing, catching, kicking, etc.).
Evidently, competence with gross motor skills is crucial for children to develop so that they can accomplish everyday self-care tasks. Getting dressed, climbing in and out of bed, and sitting upright at the table are examples of basic activities that could prove challenging for children who struggle with their gross motor skills.
Many of the aforementioned activities are so basic that most able-bodied adults don’t even have to think about the process the body goes through to perform them, and it’s true that a majority of children don’t need to be consciously taught how to develop these skills. But gross motor skills are more complex than they first appear.
They require the coordination of muscles and the neurological system and affect balance and coordination. They also form the foundation for the development of fine motor skills (see the section on fine motor skills below). For example, a child who struggles to sit in an upright position at a table may struggle to develop fine motor skills, such as writing or cutting with scissors, which can further affect their performance in school.
Children who struggle with gross motor skills, for whatever reasons, often have difficulties in school. School can already be a tiring experience for kids, but when sitting in a chair or on the carpet all day is a challenge, it can be even more exhausting. Walking upstairs to a classroom, keeping up with classmates in the schoolyard, toileting issues, and carrying a heavy backpack can also be a challenge. Sometimes, these difficulties can affect children emotionally and socially as they see their peers doing with ease these tasks they struggle with.
If you want to encourage your child to work on developing their gross motor skills at home, here are a few activities you can try:
What are Fine Motor Skills?
Gross motor skills involve the core muscle groups of the body, whereas ‘fine motor skills’ involve the hands, fingers, and wrists that allow the dexterity of movement. These skills are necessary for almost every daily task a child will need to complete. Dressing themselves, feeding themselves, self-care tasks, play, and school-related tasks such as grasping a pencil are all crucial life skills that are dependent upon a child’s mastery of fine motor skills.
There are several different movements that occupational therapists will look at when practicing fine motor skills with children. Here are a few of them:
There are tons of fun activities that can help to improve a child’s fine motor skills, and the good news is that most of these activities will just look like play to them! Here’s a list of a few fun ideas to work on your child’s fine motor skills at home.
When to Seek Help
It’s hard to know exactly when you should be asking for help to improve your child’s fine and gross motor skills. There’s a huge range of what is normal child development, but if you have concerns, it’s important to bring them up with your physician. Occupational therapy (OT) is typically how motor skill delays are treated, and depending on the age of your child and where you live, you may be able to access it through the public school system or you may have to find a private therapist. Your doctor should be able to help direct you to the correct resources.
There are a few different possible causes for motor skill delays. Children who are born with conditions such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, myopathy, or who are born very prematurely often have developmental delays. However, children who do not have diagnosed conditions can also struggle with gross or fine motor skills for less obvious reasons. One of these reasons may be low muscle tone or hypotonia.
Low muscle tone means that the length of the resting muscle is longer than typical, which means that every time the child uses their muscle it must go through a greater range of motion and, as a result, uses more energy. Children with low muscle tone are sometimes described as being ‘floppy’, and can tire quickly because of the extra effort they need to put into everyday activities such as walking or sitting upright.
If you notice your child is avoiding a particular activity that is typically enjoyed by others their age, it’s worth bringing it up to your doctor to ask their opinion. For example, a child who struggles with gross motor skills may avoid playing games where they cannot physically keep up with the others, or a child with a fine motor delay might appear clumsy or avoid ‘quiet’ activities such as writing or drawing. Don’t be embarrassed to ask your doctor for help – lots of children can benefit from the help of an occupational therapist, and early intervention is key to positive outcomes.