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Gross motor skills: birth to 5 years

Gross motor skills: Birth to 5 years 

What are gross motor skills?

Gross motor skill development involves the large muscles in the arms, legs and torso. Gross motor activities are important to everyday physical activities like walking, running, throwing, lifting, kicking, etc. Gross motor abilities also form the basis for fine motor skills and relate to body awareness, reaction speed, balance and strength. Learn more about all developmental milestones by age.

Gross motor development milestones: General physical activity guidelines for children ages 0 to 5 years

Newborn to 2 months

  • Turns head to both sides while on back
  • Lifts head and able to turn to both sides while on belly
  • Head lag with pull to sit
  • Kicking both legs and moving both arms equally while on back
  • Performs tummy time on floor regularly

3-4 months 

  • Raises head in line with trunk when pulled to sit  
  • Pushes up on forearms and turn head side to side while on belly  
  • Tolerates tummy time well   
  • Rolls from belly to back  

5 months 

  • Rolls from back to belly  
  • Brings feet to mouth laying on back  
  • Pushes up on hands with arms extended while on belly  
  • Pivots in a circle while on belly to each side  

6-8 months 

  • Sits alone   
  • Reaches for toys to play in sitting   
  • Catches self with loss of balance in sitting   
  • Crawls on belly  

9-11 months 

  • Moves between laying down and sitting upright without help  
  • Crawls on hands and knees  
  • Pulls to a standing position with one foot leading  
  • Cruises around furniture  
  • Walks with two hands held

11-12 months 

  • Walks with one hand held
  • Stands alone for a few seconds

13-14 months 

  • Crawls up stairs  
  • Stands up from the floor without support   
  • Walks alone well  
  • Squats and stands back up without holding onto support  

15-18 months  

  • Walks up stairs with hands or rails to help  
  • Crawls down the stairs (on belly, feet first)  
  • Can run, though falls easily  
  • Kicks a ball forward

2 years 

  • Walks and runs fairly well   
  • Jumps in place with both feet off the ground  
  • Walks up and down stairs alone  
  • Kicks a ball with either foot

3 years 

  • Balance on one foot for a few seconds   
  • Jump forward 10-24 inches   
  • Catches a large ball   
  • Rides a tricycle

By 4 years 

  • Can run, jump and climb well, is beginning to skip  
  • Hops proficiently on one foot  
  • Can do hopscotch  
  • Catches a ball reliably  
  • Begins somersaults

By 5 years 

  • Skips on alternate feet and jump rope  
  • Begins to skate and swim  
  • Rides bicycle with/without training wheels    
  • Climbs well

This information is a general guide to help you determine if your child is progressing at the rate expected for his or her age. Please keep in mind that each child is unique and develops skills at their own rate.

Physical activity recommendations

By exploring many different types of movement, your child can build the confidence, motivation and physical competence to engage in an active lifestyle.

According to the American Heart Association, a daily dose of at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is recommended for children ages six to seventeen years old. Infants and toddlers are recommended to get 180 minutes of activity spread throughout the day based on the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is suggested that both structured play as well as unstructured play should be incorporated throughout the day.

Ideally, children should participate in 60 minutes of continuous activity. However, for both older children and toddlers the daily amount of activity can be split up throughout the day. For example, two 30-minute segments or four 15-minute segments for children is still beneficial. Whether you’re at home or on the playground, here are some activities, that with proper guidance, may encourage your child to get moving: •

Indoor:

  • Infants/toddlers: crawling and walking over various surfaces such as creating obstacles with pillows and blankets; sitting with support at torso on an exercise ball, mommy/daddy and me classes (yoga, tumbling, swimming)
  • Children: bounce house play, jump rope activities, yoga, dance, gymnastics, cheerleading

Outdoor:

  • Infants/toddlers: mommy/daddy and me swim classes; water play in buckets or playing at water tables; infant/toddler swings or slides at the playground; obstacles over various surfaces such as gravel, grass
  • Children: swimming, sprinkler water play, water parks, marco polo, ice skating, snow tubing, sledding, roller skating, skateboarding, playgrounds, riding scooters, tricycle and bicycle riding, hiking, jumping and hop scotch activities, soccer, baseball, swinging

Our therapy programs can also help bring out the best in your child. From aquatic therapy, to sports therapy and more, our team takes an integrated approach, using the right therapy or therapies your child needs at the right stage in their development. We can help your child learn or regain the skills they need to be successful during everyday activities and participate with peers.

Problems with reaching developmental milestones? How to improve your child’s gross motor skills

If you have concerns regarding your child’s development or your child is regularly missing development milestones, physical therapy can assess development and address concerns. If you are concerned about your child's development of gross motor skills, a physician or therapist may be able to assist with an evaluation.

Physical therapists can provide a comprehensive examination of your child’s strength, balance, coordination and gross motor skills in order to determine barriers to safe body movement. We provide therapeutic activities that are engaging and specific to a child’s age, cognitive status, ability level and interests.

To make an appointment with a pediatric physical therapist, call one of these locations: 

Information provided by Kristen McBee PT, DPT; Anisha Craft PT, DPT, PCS; Renee Leiby PT, DPT and Jan Steinberger PT, DPT.

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