As adults we take a lot of our day-to-day movements for granted. But the way we use our bodies to get about, take care of our kids and exercise are all movements that are based on the gross motor skills we learned as babies.
‘Gross motor skills’ is an expression that describes a child’s big movements, such as sitting, crawling, walking, running and climbing. The smaller movements that they perform with their hands and fingers are known as ‘fine motor skills’ in contrast.
Typically, a baby’s first gross motor skill is learning to roll over, which happens between three and seven months.
“One common issue we see are children that get stuck in sitting. This often occurs because these babies don’t tolerate being on their tummies and are just placed on the floor in a sitting position,” she explains.
But while gross motor skills are an essential part of development, it’s not always plain sailing. Debbie Evans, a paediatric physiotherapist and clinical director of Therapies for Kids, says there are some common issues that hinder the development of gross motor skills.
Another issue occurs when a small child is uncomfortable taking risks when encountering a new gross motor experience, such as a new park. “These children often will sit in the sandpit rather than interacting with other children and their environment,” says Evans.
Parents can look out for some warning signs that might indicate delayed gross motor skills. “Some red flags are if your child doesn’t appear to be meeting milestones, your baby gets upset when placed in new positions, and your child hangs back in new situations,” explains Evans.
In older toddlers, red flags also include kids who are more interested in screen time than physical activities like going to the park or swimming pool, and children who have difficulty playing with their peers.
If you ever have any concerns, chat with your doctor.
Of course, there are some everyday things parents can do to improve gross motor skills and coordination. Here are some tips from Evans:
• put babies in different positions whenever you put them on the floor – i.e. on their tummy, side or back, or prop them up in a siting position
• give your baby lots of experience of movement by playing movement games, such as singing them songs with big actions
• try not to use commercial props such as ‘bumbos’ and standers to the exclusion of others – variety is the key
• when your child is more mobile, provide lots of different opportunities to practice moving. Go to parks with play equipment, different surfaces (sand, grass, asphalt) slopes and stairs
• you can also encourage the development of gross motor skills by modelling different activities: running, throwing, kicking, skipping, scooting, etc. This is something that can involve the whole family.
Evans says that developing gross motor skills is something you can really enjoy. “Take risks and do this as a family!” she says.
“Remember that play and repetition are the cornerstones to all learning. Just have fun!”
If you ever have concerns about your baby’s development, speak to a child health nurse or your doctor.