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Gross Motor Development

Gross Motor Development and Red Flags: A guide through childhood movement and skills

If you’ve been a parent or caretaker for a few months or years, or are planning on being one, you’ve likely heard the term “gross motor skills” by now. But what exactly are they, and how do you know if your child is achieving all the skills they need to? It’s worth explaining first what they are and how they are determined before outlining the major and some of the minor gross motor skills at each age.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are often defined as the skills or tasks that involve the large muscles of our arms, legs, trunk, and core. Have you walked for a mile, rode a bike, thrown a ball, hopped on one leg? These are all examples of gross motor skills. This is not to be confused with fine motor skills, which typically involve small muscle movements of the hands and wrists in conjunction with the eyes (like writing or playing with clay). Gross motor skills at any age or level of ability are key for children to engage with their peers and adults in play and development. While it is good to be active for physical health, being active can also improve mental and emotional health too! 

In knowing how vital gross motor skills are, it is important to make sure that these skills are met at an appropriate time as they lay the groundwork for development of more complex skills. Everyone wants their child to take their first steps, but it does not happen overnight: before that they need to crawl, before that they need to push up on their hands, and before that they need to be comfortable lifting their head up while on their tummy. 

Development Milestones

Our development milestones timeline, found by clicking here, outlines estimates of when children should achieve these gross motor skills, based on decades of research of typical and atypical development in children. 

Below is a “red flag” list for any observations you see of your child that should be concerning for their development. If your child does not meet the skills within one month of their typical timeframe or has any red flags that have not been previously diagnosed or assessed, it is highly recommended to visit your pediatrician and a physical therapist with your concerns so a full evaluation can be performed.

Physical Therapy Evaluation

Signs your child would benefit from a Physical Therapy Evaluation 

  • Not meeting milestones listed above 
  • Skipped multiple milestones
  • Walks different compared to peers
  • Walks on “tip-toes” all the time
  • “Clumsy”, is falling over constantly, bumps into objects
  • “Stiff” or “Awkward” when sitting or moving limbs
  • Difficulty getting up from floor (walks hands up legs, uses a person, uses a table)
  • Has a limp when walking
  • A tremor is present in one hand or arm
  • Legs and or feet look different compared to children their age
  • Complaints of persistent pain or fatigue when at rest or when moving
  • Frequently misjudges distances
  • Significantly off-balance when eyes are closed
  • Still points the toes in at 2 years of age
  • Fatigued by a few stairs
  • Has experience with a tool or toy but does not improve their activity accordingly (i.e.cannot recall how to get on or move a scooter board after using it.)
  • Skills are regressing. For example, used to throw a ball 10 feet but now cannot complete the throwing motion.

References:

  1. Effgen SK. Meeting the Physical Therapy Needs of Children. F.A. Davis Co; 2013.
  2. Cech D, Suzanne Tink Martin. Functional Movement Development across the Life Span. Elsevier Saunders; 2012.
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