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Normal Development of Functional Motor Skills

by Ireland Wolfe, studioD

Infants rapidly develop functional motor skills, specific functions that involve muscular coordination. Gross motor skills refer to mobility, such as crawling and walking, whereas fine motor skills are more precise movements. Newborns have a few basic reflexes that help to form functional motor skills later in development. Although many infants and toddlers reach these milestones at approximately the same age, individual children can acquire motor skills at various times.


Newborns are born with some basic reflexes, or automatic responses to stimulation. Some of these reflexes are important to help babies develop functional motor skills. The stepping reflex, which looks like primitive walking, prepares infants for actual walking. Although babies lose this reflex when their legs become too heavy, the reflex reappears when infants start to walk. The palmar grasp, where infants spontaneously grasp fingers, helps infants get ready for voluntary grasping. Another reflex, tonic neck, is a precursor to voluntary reaching.

First Six Months

At approximately 6 weeks of age, babies develop their first functional motor skill. They can start to hold their head erect and steady. Although 6 weeks is the average age, this motor skill can develop anywhere from 3 weeks to 4 months. At 2 months of age, babies begin to lift their bodies by their arms when lying prone and begin to roll from side to back. Between 3 and 4 months, infants start to grasp objects. Babies that are 4 to 5 months old can roll the other way, from back to side.

Six to 12 Months

Infants develop many gross and fine motor skills between 6 and 12 months of age. Babies that are around 7 months old begin to sit alone and start to crawl. At 8 months, babies can pull themselves up to a standing position. Between 9 and 10 months, infants can play pat-a-cake. When infants are 11 months old, they can often stand by themselves. Right around 1 year of age, babies begin to walk alone. At that same age, children can build a tower with two cubes.

12 Months and Beyond

After a year, toddlers develop more fine motor skills than gross motor skills. At 14 months, toddlers can scribble vigorously on paper. By 16 months, toddlers often begin walking up stairs with help. At age 2, children can often kick and throw a ball, walk on tiptoes, jump in place, jump off a low step, stand up from a sitting position and run forward. Between age 3 and 4, children can start to pedal a tricycle, walk upstairs and walk backward.

About the Author

Ireland Wolfe has been writing professionally since 2009, contributing to Toonari Post, Africana Online and Winzer Insurance. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Master of Arts in mental health counseling. She is also a licensed mental health counselor, registered nutritionist and yoga teacher.

Photo Credits

  • Rayes/Lifesize/Getty Images