7.5 Motor Skill Development

Early childhood is a time when children are especially attracted to motion and song. Days are filled with jumping, running, swinging and clapping and every place becomes a playground. Even the booth at a restaurant affords the opportunity to slide around in the seat or disappear underneath and imagine being a sea creature in a cave! Of course, this can be frustrating to a caregiver, but it’s the business of early childhood.

7.5.1 Gross Motor Skills in Early Childhood

Children continue to improve their gross motor skills as they run and jump. They frequently ask their caregivers to “look at me” while they hop or roll down a hill. Children’s songs are often accompanied by arm and leg movements or cues to turn around or move from left to right. Gross Motor Milestones

Here is a table showing the progression of gross motor skills that children will typically develop during early childhood:

Table 7.2: Gross Motor Milestones269
Typical Age What Most Children Do by This Age
3 years Climbs well
3 years Runs easily
3 years Pedals a tricycle (3-wheel bike)
3 years Walks up and down stairs, one foot on each step
4 years Hops and stands on one foot up to 2 seconds
4 years Catches a bounced ball most of the time
5 years Stands on one foot for 10 seconds or longer
5 years Hops; may be able to skip
5 years Can do a somersault
5 years Can use the toilet on own
5 years Swings and climbs Activities to Support Gross Motor Skills

Here are some activities focused on play that young children enjoy and that support their gross motor skill development.

  • Tricycle

  • Slides

  • Swings

  • Sit-n-Spin

  • Mini trampoline

  • Bowling pins (can use plastic soda bottles also)

  • Tent (try throwing blankets over chairs and other furniture to make a fort)

  • Playground ladders

  • Suspension bridge on playground

  • Tunnels (try throwing a bean bag chair underneath for greater challenge)

  • Ball play (kick, throw, catch)

  • Simon Says

  • Target games with bean bags, ball, etc.

  • Dancing/moving to music

  • Pushing self on scooter or skateboard while on stomach

Children riding tricycles together.^[[Image](https://www.hanscom.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2000320622/) by [Hanscom Air Force Base](https://www.hanscom.af.mil/) is in the public domain]

Figure 7.5: Children riding tricycles together.270

7.5.2 Fine Motor Skills in Early Childhood

Fine motor skills are also being refined as they continue to develop more dexterity, strength, and endurance. Fine motor skills are very important as they are foundational to self-help skills and later academic abilities (such as writing). Fine Motor Milestones

Here is a table showing how fine motor skills progress during early childhood for children that are typically developing.

Table 7.3: Fine Motor Milestones271
Typical Age What Most Children Do by This Age
3 years Copies a circle with pencil or crayon
3 years Turns book pages one at a time
3 years Builds towers of more than 6 blocks
3 years Screws and unscrews jar lids or turns door handle
4 years Pours, cuts with supervision, and mashes own food
4 years Draws a person with 2 to 4 body parts
4 years Uses scissors
4 years Starts to copy some capital letters
5 years Can draw a person with at least 6 body parts
5 years Can print some letters or numbers
5 years Copies a triangle and other geometric shapes
5 years Uses a fork and spoon and sometimes a table knife Activities to Support Fine Motor Skills

Here are some fun activities that will help children continue to refine their fine motor abilities. Fine motor skills are slower to develop than gross motor skills, so it is important to have age appropriate expectations and play-based activities for children.

  • Pouring water into a container

  • Drawing and coloring

  • Using scissors

  • Finger painting

  • Fingerplays and songs (such as the Itsy, Bitsy Spider)

  • Play dough

  • Lacing and beading

  • Practicing with large tweezers, tongs, and eye droppers

Children coloring.^[[Image](https://www.spangdahlem.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2000988922/) by [Spangdahlem Air Base](https://www.spangdahlem.af.mil/) is in the public domain]

Figure 7.6: Children coloring.272

  1. Developmental Milestones by the CDC is in the public domain↩︎

  2. Image by Hanscom Air Force Base is in the public domain↩︎

  3. Developmental Milestones by the CDC is in the public domain↩︎

  4. Image by Spangdahlem Air Base is in the public domain↩︎