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Gross vs Fine Motor Skills: What’s the Difference?

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Gross motor skills are just as important as fine motor skills when it comes to early childhood development. From their first step to when they can finally sit up without being supported by millions of cushions – fine and gross motor skills are huge developmental milestones in early childhood. 

Below, we talk about what gross motor skills are, how it differs from fine motor skills, and how you can encourage your child to develop these early learning skills at home. 

Gross vs Fine Motor Skills: Are They Different?

You’ve more than likely heard the phrases gross motor and fine motor mentioned before. These motor development skills allow us to move and carry out various activities during our lives. As your baby begins to grow and gets curious about the world around them, they will instinctively begin to learn these life skills. 

However, what exactly are they? Are they different from each other? The answer is yes. While they both involve your child having to use their muscles to carry out specific tasks, the muscle groups that are used are both different. 

Gross motor skills focus on the bigger movements and large muscles. Fine motor skills, on the other hand, focus on dexterity and small movements. 

Gross Motor Skills: Defined & Examples

The gross motor skills definition states that it requires larger muscles in the body for big movements. These skills use the whole body (e.g. core muscles, arm muscles, and leg muscles) for activities that require coordination, balance, and physical strength. 

When your child learns to pull themselves up into a standing position – this is an example of gross motor skills in action. They have to use the muscles in their arms and legs to make the movement. Other actions such as walking, standing, jumping, and running are all examples of gross motor skills. 

Like with other early learning skills, motor skills develop at different phases during early childhood. However, don’t worry if your child doesn’t hit these milestones during the time frames below – everyone develops at their own pace.

Do you know the idiom ‘you can’t run before you walk’? Well, it’s physically true. Your baby will have a lot of work ahead of them before they can learn how to walk. Let’s look at what gross motor skills you can expect them to learn at various age groups. 

0-3 Months

  • Once your baby is a few months old, you will notice that their movements become more controlled. Their hand-eye coordination will begin to develop and you may notice them batting at colored toys. 
  • During tummy time, you will start to see your baby lifting their head and chest off the floor. 

3-6 Months

  • Between the ages of 3 and 6 months, your baby will begin to move more. They should be able to completely roll over from their tummy to their back and vice versa. 
  • When lying on their stomach, a child of this age will start to raise their arms and legs off the ground.
  • Your baby should also be able to lift their head when pulled up into a sitting position.

6-9 Months

  • As your baby becomes a little older their abdominal muscles will begin to strengthen. Your baby will be able to start sitting without too much support from you. 
  • They will start to glide around on the floor during tummy time. You will notice them raising on their hands and knees to make movements. 
  • Once their arm and leg muscles get stronger, they will eventually begin to crawl.

1 Year

  • At the 12 month mark, your child will begin to sit up – all by themselves. 
  • Your child will also begin to experiment with standing up. They will pull themselves using support from coffee tables, armchairs, and even your legs.

2-5 Years 

  • Between the ages of 2 and 5 years is when you will notice the biggest difference in your child’s gross motor skills. Not only will they be able to walk but they’ll start jogging and running too. 
  • Your child will learn how to walk up and downstairs and how to jump.
  • Many children will begin to combine their hand-eye coordination with their arm-leg coordination during this time, e.g. riding a tricycle. 
  • Once your child reaches the age of 4, they should be able to hop on one leg, use a skipping rope, play games, and learn how to swim confidently. 

Fine Motor Skills: Defined & Examples

Fine motor skills focus on manual dexterity. Instead of using the larger muscle groups, it focuses on smaller muscles, especially in the hands. While gross motor skills may help your child to pick up an object, fine motor skills allow your child to grasp it. 

Similarly, each child will develop fine motor skills at various stages during their childhood. Let’s have a look at these below. 

0-3 Months

  • Between birth and three months, your child will be able to recognize their hands and bring them to their mouth.
  • They will also start to swing their arms and hit objects.

3-6 Months

  • Your child will start to be able to hold their own hands.
  • They’ll start to reach for objects and will be able to pass them from one hand to the other. 

6-9 Months

  • At this age your child should be able to start squeezing such as your hand or a bottle.
  • They will also be able to grasp and hold on to items. 

1 Year

  • By the time that your baby is 1 year old, you should start to notice them using one hand prominently over the other.
  • They will start to use their index finger and thumb to grasp objects.
  • Your child will also be able to turn pages in a book or feed themself finger foods.

2-5 Years 

  • Before you know it your child will be able to wash their own hands, play with clay or dough, and be able to stack blocks. 
  • This is also the period when your child learns how to grasp a pencil or pen so that they can start learning how to write. 
  • Your child will also be able to dress themselves without your help and will learn how to tie their own shoelaces. 

How to Encourage the Development of Motor Skills During Early Childhood

Incorporating activities into your child’s daily routine that helps them develop their motor skills, regardless of whether it is gross vs fine motor skills, is simple to do. In the majority of cases, your child will pick these early childhood development skills up naturally, but you should always encourage these skills too. 

For gross motor skills, encourage your baby to do lots of tummy time and encourage them to start crawling and moving by placing their toys in front of them. Even songs such as “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” can help older toddlers to develop these motor skills. 

Activities and toys such as rattles, building blocks, picking up objects, and doing crafts are all great ways to improve your child’s fine motor skills as they age. 

At Vivvi, a core part of our early learning program focuses on helping your child to hit those all important motor development skills. Our inquiry-based model combines those all important early childhood development milestones with your child’s natural curiosity. Our early learning program can be offered in one of our campuses, in the office, or in-home – supporting you and your child where you are. 
For more information on our early learning program or to schedule a tour of a Vivvi campus, get in touch with our team today.

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