Children in early childhood experience rapid physical, mental and emotional development. Advancement of gross motor skills not only reflects muscular growth and dexterity, but brain development as well. Boys and girls typically mature at different rates, but gender differences also exist in how children use gross motor skills to play and interact with one another.
Gross Motor Development in Boys
Between the ages of 3 and 6, a child's ability to run, jump, throw and catch improves dramatically, no matter the gender. However, according to Laura Berk in her book on child development, boys generally mature ahead of girls in skills that emphasize force and power. By the end of early childhood, boys can usually jump farther, run faster and throw a ball farther than girls. While some of the differences in development are genetic, Berk points out that boys and girls are often routed into difference activities as a young child. For instance, fathers are more likely to play catch with their sons than with their daughters.
Gross Motor Development in Girls
Although the gender difference in gross motor skills in early childhood is slight, girls typically develop these abilities at a slower rate. According to Berk, girls are somewhat better than boys at skills that require balance and coordination, like hopping or skipping. Because most parents direct the activities of girls differently than boys, girls tend to develop fine motor skills, like those needed for drawing, faster than gross motor skills. As boys and girls move into middle childhood and adolescence, the differences in gross motor skills increases to a greater gap between genders.
Gender Differences in Play
By observing how children in early childhood play with one another, researchers seek to understand the gender differences in physical, verbal and relational aggression. While a child's individual gross motor skill abilities do not directly affect how aggressive he or she will be, the difference between how boys and girls interact with the same gender provides insight into aggressive childhood behaviors. Jamie Ostrov and Caroline Keating, writing for Social Development, conclude that boys show more physical and verbal aggressive behaviors than girls, often because they engage in more physical play.
Strengthening Gross Motor Skills
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that preschoolers participate daily in at least 60 minutes of aerobic and bone and muscle strengthening activities. All children, regardless of gender, can benefit from a home or school environment that purposefully provides opportunities to develop gross motor skills. Berk points out that when parents, caregivers and teachers intentionally encourage children to play physically, gross motor skills are enhanced. Having access to playgrounds with diverse types of equipment and time to explore and interact with other children outdoors increases opportunities for healthy physical development.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Chapter 3: Active Children and Adolescents
- Infants and Children: Prenatal Through Middle Childhood, 6/e; Laura Berk
- Social Development: Gender Differences in Preschool Aggression During Free Play and Structured Interactions: An Observational Study
- Getty Images/Lifesize/Getty Images