Fine and gross motor skills, what are they?

tummy time

Physical development of young children has a direct effect on their overall development and on the adult they will become.  Many parents are told certain activities help a child’s motor skills, but what actually are they?

A motor skill is simply an action that involves babies using their muscles. There are two different types of motor skills, gross and fine. Each type is equally as important as the other and the milestones the skills bring are both rewarding.

Gross motor skills are larger movements babies make with their arms, legs, feet, or entire body. So kicking, rolling, crawling, running, and jumping are gross motor skills.

Fine motor skills are smaller actions. When babies pick things up between fingers and thumbs, or wriggles their toes, fine motor skills are used. But it’s not just about fingers and toes. When babies uses their tongue to taste and feel objects it’s using fine motor skills too.

There are milestones in place for babies to achieve, but these are not set in stone as to the age your baby should reach them. Each baby has a different speed of development so these guidelines are exactly that, guidelines. If you are worried that your child is extremely falling behind in the developmental stages, you should speak to your health visitor.

Not-for-profit organisation, Pathways have created a basic guide of motor skill milestones:

0-3 Months

At this age, while lying on their tummy your baby could be pushing up on their arms or lifting and holding their head up.  They could be able to open their fists and bring their hands to their mouth.

4-6 Months


At this age, they could be able to use their hands to support themselves while sitting and while they are lying down they could be able to reach both their hands to play with their feet and transfer a toy from one hand to the other.  While they’re on their front they could reach for nearby toys and objects, and roll onto their back and back to their tummy.

7-9 Months

At this age, they could be able to sit without support, moving from their tummy or back into this position.  They could be showing the signs that they are going to start crawling soon with the alternate leg and arm movements, or starting to pull themselves to try and stand.  They could show more control while rolling, sitting and scooting.  They could be able to turn their head to visually track objects, trying to lean towards, reach for, picking up small objects with their thumbs and fingers and exploring toys with both hands.

10-12 months


At this age, they could be sitting unsupported, able to turn their heads to look at objects without losing their balance.  They could even be standing alone and taking a few independent steps, cruising along furniture.  They could be moving in and out of various positions to explore their environment and get desired toys.  They could also be clapping their hands.

13-18 Months

At this age they could be walking independently, squatting to pick up toys and stacking two objects.  They could also be helping with getting dressed and undressed.

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