Children’s Motor Skill Milestones – A guide for parents

As a parent, you rejoice at each new thing your child learns and accomplishes. From the time they offer their first smile or that first step to that first dance concert or soccer game, you enjoy watching them grow, mature, and achieve.

However, there are some children who progress in their physical skills at a slower pace than others. They may take longer to roll over or sit up as an infant or seem overly clumsy and uncoordinated as a child.

You know that every child develops differently and on their own timeline, but at what point should you wonder if something is not quite right?

Motor Skill Milestones for children – a guide for parents from occupational therapists at Kids First Children's Services in Sydney's northern beaches

Gross Motor Skills

Children’s physical skills fall into two categories: gross motor skills and fine motor skills.

Gross motor skills are those involving the entire body and large muscle groups. Everyday tasks like standing, walking, running, sitting, and hand-eye coordination require gross motor skills. These types of skills are more noticeable, both to parents and others, when a child isn’t up to par with their peers.

If your child is struggling to do what other kids can do at home or in the classroom or playground, a paediatric occupational therapist (OT) is a good person to start with if you are keen to have your child’s gross motor coordination skills assessed.

Depending on your child’s age, the OT will assess what skills they have and have not mastered up to that point. While there is a range of what is “normal”, the OT can discuss with you any areas that your child may by delayed in and need intervention. They can also reassure you that your child is within a normal developmental range and you have nothing to worry about.

Some of the skills they assess include checking to see if your child is reaching age-appropriate milestones:

  • Ages 0-6 months
    Your child will begin to roll from front to back, sit up both supported and unassisted
  • Ages 6-12 months
    Your child will be able to crawl, creep, pull themselves up to stand, walk while holding furniture, roll a ball
  • 18 months
    Your child will start to sit, crawl, and walk unassisted; learn to run; learn to kick a ball
  • 2 years
    Your child will begin to walk and run smoothly, pull toys while walking, climb stairs with help, pick up toys without falling over
  • 3 years
    Your child will be able to climb jungle gyms or ladders, ride a tricycle, imitate bilateral movement (such as raising both arms at the same time), walk on tip-toes, jump
  • 4 years
    Your child will start to balance on one foot, kick a ball, hop on one foot, walk a straight line, jump over objects
  • 5 years
    Your child will learn to climb stairs while holding objects, walk backward, skip, hang from monkey bars, catch a ball with both hands
  • 6 years
    Your child will be able to run on tiptoes, walk on a balance beam, jump rope, throw and catch a ball, hop

Fine Motor Skills

These are the more detailed motor skills involving the fingers and hands for activities like tying shoes, writing, and cutting. For some children, these skills aren’t as obvious as the gross motor skills.

Assessment of your child’s fine motor skills also goes by age and includes:

  • 0-6 months
    Your child will still have their reflexive grasp from birth, and will be beginning to reach for objects. More refined grasping and reaching skills will develop as your baby ages
  • 6-12 months
    Your child will start to reach and grasp to put objects in their mouth, use their pincer grasp (finger and thumb), transfer objects from one hand to another, pick up toys when dropped
  • 1-2 years
    Your child will be able to build a small block tower, put rings on a stick or pegs in a pegboard, scribble, turns knob, self-feed, use sign language to communicate, hold and drink from a cup unassisted
  • 2-3 years
    Your child will learn to string beads, turn book pages one at a time, hold a crayon with finger and thumb, imitate drawing shapes, roll/pound/squeeze playdough
  • 3-4 years
    Your child will learn to build higher block towers, manipulate clay into specific shapes, use scissors, develop a dominant hand and use non-dominant to assist
  • 4-5 years
    Your child will be able to cut on a line, copy shapes more accurately, write their name and numbers, copy letters, dress and undress unassisted
  • 5-6 years
    Your child will learn to cut out shapes, colour inside lines, use glue, draw pictures, and have a proper 3-finger grip of pencil
  • 6-7 years
    Your child will be able to correctly form numbers and letters, write within lines, control the movement of their pencil, be able to complete writing tasks that require endurance, tie shoelaces, build with Lego
  • 7-8 years
    Your child will be able to learn and maintain consistent handwriting

It is important to understand that your child can have delays in one area for their age while accomplishing other skills without a problem. Gross and fine motor delays can also occur together.

How an occupational therapist can help

A skilled occupational therapist can detect both types of delays and offer tailored therapy programs to help your child gain balance, control muscle movement, and improve handwriting skills.

Improving motor skills can make a big difference to your child’s level of confidence and help them keep pace with their peers.

© 2017 Kids First Children’s Services

Does your child need help to improve motor coordination skills?

Our experienced occupational therapists have helped hundreds of children to improve their motor coordination skills.

If you have concerns about your child’s physical development or would like more information about therapy services, please contact us on 9938 5419 or complete the ‘Contact Us’ form below.

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