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Basic Pattern of Motor Skill Development

by Erica Loop, studioD

From those precious first steps to watching your child hit his first baseball, kids follow a basic pattern of motor skills development. This allows children to progressively increase the coordination and sophistication of both fine, or small, and gross, or large, motor abilities. Keeping track of your child's motor skill development will help you to understand what you can expect of his movement and physical activities.


Before you begin evaluating your child in terms of her motor skill development, it's key to understand that there is some give and take when it comes to meeting major milestones. Although there are movement markers that can help you, and the professionals, to tell if your child is progressing in a typical way, there is some variation among different children when it comes to specific time frames. According to the child development experts at the University of Michigan Health System the precise age that each child reaches a certain milestone can vary. Normal variation may mean that your child falls within a range that is often as long as two or more months. For example, some kids walk at 12 months old, while other normally developing children do not take their first steps until 15 months old. That said, if your child seems way off the mark when it comes to meeting a motor milestone, consult your pediatrician o another professional for advice.


By the end of the first year, you will see a drastic increase in your child's motor development, in that his motor development will increase in maturity and in skill abilities. As a newborn, your little one cannot do much more than perform simple reflexive actions. According to the National Network for Child Care, at roughly 3 months old, your infant can lift her head and her chest while on her stomach and grasp a small object. By 6 months, she can grasp objects that you give her; she can also reach for them. Additionally, she can sit almost without assistance, and she can roll over. A 12 month old furthers these skills and other motor skills by building the ability to self-feed, crawl, stand alone or cruise by holding onto objects such as furniture. Your child might be walking by 12 months.


The toddler years usher in a completely new issue when it comes to motor development: Walking. At, or around 1 year, your child will begin to walk by himself. After he masters walking, you will notice your toddler developing new gross motor skills such as running or hopping. Gross motor developmental milestones to look for by 2 years, include walking unassisted, climbing up and down off furniture, kicking a ball, and walking up and down stairs with some help, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Healthy Children website. Fine motor skills your toddler will develop include using writing tools to scribble and gaining the hand-eye coordination and dexterity to build a block tower.

Preschoolers and Up

The preschool years mark a time of more mature motor skills abilities. Instead of toddling around, your preschooler and older child can actually run and has the coordination to play sports that involve throwing and catching a ball, kicking a ball or maintaining balance. When it comes to fine motor milestones, the experts at the Healthy Children website note that a preschool-aged child has the ability to draw basic shapes and patterns, use utensils appropriately and write some of the alphabet. As your child moves into the grade school years, you will not see the rapid growth that you did when she was younger, but she will refine motor skills, developing the ability to draw well, print all of the letters, and eventually to write in cursive.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

  • Ezra Shaw/Digital Vision/Getty Images