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Gross Motor Skills

All of us can remember that one child back when we were in school. You know which one I’m talking about; always clumsy, falling over their own legs, not able to catch a ball well.  Chances are that this child had underdeveloped gross motor skills.

What are Gross Motor Skills?

All of us can remember that one child back when we were in school. You know which one I’m talking about; always clumsy, falling over their own legs, not able to catch a ball well.  Chances are that this child had underdeveloped gross motor skills.

Gross motor (physical) skills are those which require whole-body movement, and which involve the large (core stabilising) muscles of the body to perform everyday functions, such as standing and walking, running and jumping, and sitting upright at the table. They also include hand-eye coordination skills such as ball skills (throwing, catching, and kicking) as well as riding a bike or a scooter and swimming.

Gross motor skill development goes hand in hand with the development of speech and fine motor skills

Good gross motor skills stem from having developed good sensory-motor skills – especially body and limb awareness and motor planning skills – something which we develop from birth and continue to develop right throughout our life span.

  • Gross motor skills involve movements of the large muscles of the arms, legs, and torso.
  • Children who struggle with gross motor skills may have a hard time pedalling a bike or climbing the jungle gym.
  • The trouble with coordination can sometimes be seen in children with conditions like dyspraxia.
  • Gross motor skills involve movements of the large muscles of the arms, legs, and torso.

Why are they important?

Good gross motor skills and body awareness are important for good posture, movement around the school, participation in games and sports, and for general fitness, health, and wellbeing. Of course, children can have a happy, fulfilling life without being good at hopscotch or kickball! But the skills these activities require are important for managing the body. Being able to hop, for example, helps kids control themselves when they lose their footing. And not feeling confident on the playground can lower their self-esteem and discourage them from staying active later in life.

Taking part in gross motor activities can have a positive impact on school readiness skills such as reading, writing, and sitting posture. Gross motor abilities also have an influence on other everyday functions. For example, a child’s ability to maintain appropriate table posture (upper body support) will affect their ability to participate in fine motor skills (e.g. writing, drawing, and cutting) and sitting upright to attend to class instruction, which then has an impact on their academic learning.

Gross motor skills have an impact on your endurance to cope with a full day of school (sitting upright at a desk, moving between classrooms, carrying your heavy school bag). They also have an impact on your ability to navigate your environment (e.g. walking around classroom items such as a desk, up a sloped playground hill, or to get on and off a moving escalator).  Without fair gross motor skills, a child will struggle with many day-to-day tasks such as eating, packing away their toys, and getting onto and off the toilet or potty.

Factors That Affect Gross Motor Development

  • Playing computer games and watching TV has given our children great exposure to all kinds of information that the previous generation did not have, but the cost is that they may miss out on opportunities to develop their physical motor skills in outdoor and indoor play.
  • The presence of low muscle tone or high muscle tone can affect your child’s ability to control his body.
  • Growing up in a protected environment can be hazardous to our health! We don’t let our children play outside, walk to the park, or cycle to friends anymore. We are trying to keep them safe, which is great, but their motor skills can be adversely affected by the lack of physical opportunity.
  • Babies tend to spend a lot of time in car seats, walking rings, and in front of the TV. These are all adaptations made necessary by the demands of modern life, but too much time in “baby gear” can have a detrimental impact on their motor development.
  • A sedentary lifestyle, accompanied by too much rich food, means that adults are less likely to engage in physical games with their children. They then don’t have good role models and prize other things more highly than physical activity and good health.
  • Underlying physical difficulties with coordination, balance, motor planning and concentration can all affect a child’s ability to take part in, and benefit from, gross motor activities. These difficulties may stem from birth trauma, Sensory Processing Disorder, developmental delays, genetic abnormalities, or many other causes.

Karin Visser

Biolink Attention Training Head Office