Fine and Gross Motor Skills
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Last updated: February, 2024
Gross motor skills describe motions that need the use of your entire body or your body’s core muscles in order to carry out daily tasks. Basic movements like standing and sitting up straight, as well as running, walking, jumping, riding a bike, swimming, and ball-related activities like throwing, catching, kicking, and so on, are examples of gross motor skills.
It appears that the development of gross motor skills is essential for children to be able to perform daily self-care tasks. Basic tasks like getting dressed, getting in and out of bed, and sitting up straight at the table could be difficult for kids whose gross motor skills are weak.
Granted, most able-bodied adults don’t even need to consider the physiological processes involved in performing many of the aforementioned activities, and most children don’t require explicit instruction in developing these skills. However, gross motor skills are not as simple as they seem.
They have an impact on balance and coordination and call for neurological and muscular coordination. Additionally, they serve as the cornerstone for the growth of fine motor skills (see the section below on fine motor skills). A child who has trouble sitting still at a table, for instance, might find it difficult to acquire fine motor skills, which are necessary for writing or cutting with scissors. This could have an additional negative impact on the child’s academic performance.
For whatever reason, kids who struggle with gross motor skills frequently face challenges in the classroom. Kids may find school to be quite taxing already, but when they have to struggle to sit in a chair or on the carpet all day, it can be even more taxing. There can be difficulties with using the restroom, walking upstairs to a classroom, keeping up with classmates in the schoolyard, and carrying a big backpack. Children may experience emotional and social effects from these challenges when they observe their peers completing tasks they find difficult with ease.
Here are some activities you can try to help your child practice improving their gross motor skills at home:
- Trampolines: This is a fantastic way to help kids practice their jumping and balance. It’s not necessary to have a full-size trampoline in your backyard; small trampolines will do the trick and can be easily moved inside for colder or bad weather.
- Swinging: Children can improve their balance by pumping their legs on a swing and moving their torso back and forth. Their ability to shift their weight back and forth is also aided by it. The swing’s back-and-forth motion also helps many kids with sensory needs feel very calm.
- Scooters, tricycles, and pedal cars: For children who have trouble with gross motor skills, bikes can be a big challenge, which can occasionally make them feel excluded. A tricycle can be a great tool for younger children to practice pedaling; you might even want to look into a tricycle that has a handle so you can push while your child practices. Scooters are a great way for older kids to get some balance practice and to keep up with the neighborhood kids until they learn how to ride a bike.
- Hopscotch: This age-old playground game is an excellent method to work on your coordination, balance, jumping, and hopping. Bonus: count in sequence to hone your numeracy skills! Your child can practice their hopping skills every time they walk down the hall by using painter’s tape to set up a hopscotch course in the playroom or driveway, or they can use chalk to draw one on the sidewalk or driveway.
- Balloons and bubbles: It’s entertaining to practice running and jumping in unpredictable patterns while chasing bubbles. When kids chase bubbles or bounce a balloon back and forth with a partner, they’ll quickly pick up direction changes and weight shifting skills.
- Obstacle courses: Indoors or out, obstacle courses can be an enjoyable way to practice a range of gross motor skills. Use furniture, blankets, pillows, painter’s tape on the floor, and other items to create obstacles that you can crawl under, climb over, hop on, and so on when you’re indoors. Try drawing an obstacle course with chalk on the playground or sidewalk outside. You can draw zigzag or curved lines for balance, circles for jumping, an X to indicate where to stand for jumping jacks, or any other inventive movement challenges you can think of. Children will enjoy watching adults finish the course as well. If you think it might inspire your child, you can even set up a timer to see who can finish the course the quickest!
What are Fine Motor Skills?
The body’s core muscle groups are involved in gross motor skills, but the hands, fingers, and wrists that enable dexterity in movement are referred to as “fine motor skills.” Practically every daily task a child must perform requires these skills. A child’s ability to perform fine motor skills is a prerequisite for many important life tasks, including dressing and feeding themselves, playing, taking care of themselves, and school-related tasks like holding a pencil.
When practicing fine motor skills with children, occupational therapists will look at a variety of movements. Below are a handful of them:
- Bilateral integration: when an action is performed with both hands working together. In order to coordinate movements, this calls for cooperation between the brain’s two hemispheres. When a child struggles with this, they may appear clumsy, dropping objects or attempting to perform tasks with one hand when two would be more convenient. Bilateral integration is necessary for a variety of skills, such as dressing, grooming, feeding oneself, and writing.
- Gross grasp: when an object is grasped with all of the fingers – consider holding the handle of a suitcase, for instance. This is a necessary skill for tasks where you have to squeeze your hand shut and hold onto something for a long time, like holding a pencil or toothbrush.
- In-hand manipulation: the capacity to manipulate items with the hands. Three basic parts are: shift (moving an object with your finger pads, like when you do up a button), rotation (rolling an object with your fingertips, like when you open a bottle lid), and translation (moving an item with your fingers from your palm to your fingers, or vice versa).
- Pincer grasp: when you pick up small objects with your thumb and forefinger. This skill is commonly used in early attempts at self-feeding.
- Finger isolation: the capacity to use fingers independently and one at a time; examples of this ability include counting fingers on one hand or pointing.
- Eye-hand coordination: the ability of the brain to process visual information and translate it into coordinated hand movements. These vital abilities affect practically every aspect of life, from basic academic tasks like handwriting to practical daily tasks like feeding and taking care of oneself.
- Finger strength: less evident but just as significant. Children who are weak in their fingers will not be able to finish fine motor tasks or handle small objects because they will not have the endurance needed. If you lack finger strength, some tasks that can be challenging are opening lunch containers and working with buttons or snaps.
When to Seek Help
It can be challenging to gauge when it’s appropriate to seek assistance for your child’s fine and gross motor development. Although there is a wide range of what constitutes normal child development, it is crucial that you discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor. Motor skill delays are usually treated with occupational therapy (OT), and depending on your child’s age and where you live, you might be able to get it through the public school system or you might need to find a private therapist. Your physician ought to be able to assist in pointing you in the right direction.
Motor skill delays can be caused by a variety of factors. Developmental delays are common in babies born with disorders like cerebral palsy, spina bifida, myopathy, or extremely preterm births. Nevertheless, less evident causes can also contribute to gross or fine motor skill difficulties in children without medical diagnoses. Hypotonia or low muscle tone could be one of these causes.
When a child has low muscle tone, their muscles are longer at rest than they should be. This forces the muscles to use more energy because they have to stretch farther during each use. Youngsters with low muscle tone are sometimes called “floppy” and become tired easily due to the extra work required for daily tasks like sitting up straight or walking.
It’s worth discussing with your doctor if you observe that your child is not participating in an activity that other kids their age seem to enjoy. A child with a fine motor delay may look clumsy or avoid “quiet” activities like writing or drawing, while a child with a gross motor skill deficit may avoid playing games where they are unable to keep up with the others physically. Asking your doctor for assistance shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness; many kids can gain from occupational therapy services, and successful outcomes often stem from early intervention.