Gross Motor Skills

Whether you have an infant, older baby, toddler, or preschooler on your hands, gross motor skills are an important aspect of your child’s physical development. Gross motor skills are large movements—some examples include rolling over, sitting up, and walking. Read on to learn when you can anticipate these important physical milestones and what activities support your little one’s gross motor skill development.

What Are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills (also known as gross motor control) are those that involve large physical movements that your child will gradually develop over time. Even before your little one begins to become active and move independently, these skills are needed to support their body, enabling them to hold their head up and sit on their own. In addition to this crucial head and neck control, examples of gross motor skills include lifting legs, flexing arms, rolling over, sitting up, standing, and walking. The development of these movements takes time, as gross motor skills require coordination and properly functioning muscles, bones, and nerves.

Gross Vs. Fine Motor Skills

If you’re looking for the definitions of fine and gross motor skills, think of the terms in this way: gross motor skills are large, sweeping motions using the larger muscles and the entire body, and fine motor skills are small, exact movements using smaller body parts, like hands and fingers. The difference between fine and gross motor skills lies in the location and degree of movement, but both types of skills require complex coordination of the muscles, bones, and nervous system, including the brain. The importance of gross motor skills can't be overstated, as these are the skills that foster continued growth and development throughout childhood. Infants and older babies need to develop gross motor skills before fine motor skills, but these are often intertwined as little ones grow and progress toward physical milestones for each age group. Some examples of gross vs. fine motor skills include the following:

  • Gross motor skills. These larger movements include moving legs and arms, rolling over, sitting up, crawling, balancing while standing, walking, running, jumping, and riding a bike.

  • Fine motor skills. These smaller, more precise movements include grasping and holding onto something, picking up objects with the palmar grasp and pincer grasp, scribbling or drawing, stacking blocks or toys, cutting with safety scissors, folding clothing, self-feeding with utensils, and using a zipper.

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Gross Motor Skills Examples by Age

All of the fine and gross motor skills listed above evolve gradually as your child grows and develops. So, of course what your little one can do physically as an infant will differ from what they can do as a toddler. Below, you’ll find insights and lists for gross motor skill milestones for infants, older babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Gross Motor Skills Examples for Infants and Older Babies

Gross motor skills for young infants and older babies are important development milestones, as they lay the foundation for future physical growth. It takes time for babies to build these skills, but some exciting gross motor skill milestones to anticipate in this age group include improved head control, sitting upright, crawling, and taking those wobbly first steps when they start walking. Keep in mind that your baby is born with several reflexes, which may mimic gross motor skills. For example, the walking/stepping reflex happens when your little one’s feet touch a surface while you support them. Although your baby is making brisk walking movements in that moment, it’s only a reflex, which they have no control over. Of course, true walking will come in time! Here are common gross motor skill achievements your little one may reach for each age as an infant and baby:

Gross motor skills and accompanying milestones are exciting to observe, especially in your baby’s first year. However, keep in mind that every child develops at their own pace. Although most babies take their first shaky steps close to, or just after reaching, 12 months, others might start walking a little earlier or later.

Gross Motor Skills Examples for Infants and Babies

Gross Motor Skills Examples for Toddlers and Preschoolers

After you celebrate your baby’s first birthday, toddlerhood is at hand! This stage comes with many new gross motor skills your little one will master when they are 1, 2, or 3 years old, when your child might be ready to start preschool. Although there’s plenty to celebrate during these years, some of the most significant gross motor skill milestones for toddlers and preschoolers include walking up and down stairs, running, jumping, skipping, and riding a tricycle. Here’s a chart of some gross motor skill achievements your child may reach during this period:

Gross Motor Skills Examples for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Activities to Encourage Gross Motor Skills Development

It's a joy to watch your little one grow from a newborn to an older baby and from a toddler into a preschooler. Reaching those gross motor skill milestones is not only something to celebrate, but also to encourage. There are several activities for kids that help support their gross motor skill development.

Gross Motor Skills Activities for Infants and Older Babies

Below are some gross motor skill activities for young infants and older babies:

  • Tummy time. As soon as your newborn is home from the hospital, start having short tummy time sessions every day to play and interact with your baby when they’re awake. This helps strengthen the muscles in the neck and back and improves head control. At around 4 months, your baby will most likely enjoy holding their head up and pushing up on their arms or elbows when lying on their stomach. Make this even more fun by holding a rattle or toy in front of them to encourage lifting their head up and looking at you.

  • Sitting support. Help your baby learn how to balance when sitting upright by supporting them with your hands or something soft, like a pillow. If they start to tilt, you or the pillow would be there to keep your little one upright, but they’ll likely try to sit up on their own, building abdominal strength.

  • Crawling game. Sometime between 7 and 10 months, your baby will likely be a crawling enthusiast. To encourage this movement and help your child build the muscles to start crawling, put them on their tummy and place an object just out of reach as you remain close by. This gross motor skill game prompts your baby to reach for the object and push a bit to mimic the motions of crawling.

  • Obstacle course. Once your little one becomes more agile and can crawl easily, you can put together a soft obstacle course. Use pillows, cushions, blankets, and/or boxes and let your child have fun crawling up, over, under, or through the course, with you close at hand to cheer them on and supervise. Of course, don't leave your little one alone with these items, as your baby could become trapped or afraid.

Gross Motor Skills Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Once children become more mobile and independent, they typically have no trouble finding ways to be active and play from the moment they wake up! Keep in mind that older toddlers and preschoolers may start to enjoy having playdates with other children. Besides encouraging motor development, these interactions can also help with social skills, such as learning how to share. Here are some general play ideas and gross motor skills activities for toddlers and preschoolers that can help build and strengthen these important skills.

  1. Outdoor play. Because your little one has increased energy, you might want to take physical activities outside as much as possible. Outdoor activities that support gross motor skills can be as simple as letting your energetic toddler run around the yard or at the local park. Remember that kids this age can’t assess risky situations, so keep an eye when your child is playing outside or on playground equipment.

  2. Creative or interactive games. Once your toddler reaches the age of 3 years, they might be less interested in just running around and may prefer specific activities. Structured games or creative activities like playing in a sandbox are good options, as is interacting with other kids while playing tag or catch, for example. In general, any kind of physical play will help foster gross motor skill development.

  3. Household tasks and toys. Kids love to mimic what you’re doing, so consider either getting your toddler involved in some simple chores or purchasing household toys, like a toy vacuum or lawnmower. On rainy days, you can still help encourage those gross motor skills with indoor activities like letting your little one “help” you clean the house or prepare a meal.

Gross Motor Skills Delay

Typically, children develop motor skills from the top down, meaning your infant’s first gross motor skills will be head control. From that point on, you should see a gradual progression in these large movements, as head control leads to upper body strength, which leads to rolling over, and so on. Children develop at different rates, so don't be surprised if your little one doesn’t reach gross motor skill milestones at the exact ages suggested above. Instead, look for steady progression at each stage. If you have questions about what your child is or isn't doing at a certain age, or are concerned about a possible gross motor skills delay, contact your child’s healthcare provider. Most likely, your child is simply developing at their own rate, but the provider can help identify any issues.

The Bottom Line

Children grow and develop at different rates, and as you follow your child's unique pattern of development, you’ll have plenty of gross motor skills to celebrate. Perhaps your infant is gaining head control and pushing up on their elbows, or maybe your older baby is getting ready to take their first teetering steps. You’ll love seeing your toddler begin to run and kick balls or watching your preschooler balance on one foot and turn somersaults. Watching your child grow and change is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding aspects of parenthood! There are also lots of interactive activities you can do to support and encourage gross motor skill development. For example, let your baby enjoy tummy time frequently or provide active outdoor games for your energetic toddler. If you have any questions about your child’s development of gross motor skills, contact their healthcare provider. Kids reach these milestones at different ages, and your provider can provide reassurance that all is well and suggest any necessary steps to address issues, including a gross motor skill delay. Enjoy your little one’s progress and soak in all these exciting development milestones. Before you know it, you’ll have an active and independent preschooler on your hands!


  • Book: Caring for your baby and young child, birth to age 5, Sixth Edition Paperback – November 2, 2014 by American Academy of Pediatrics (Author)
  • Healthy Children: Physical Development Delays
  • Medline Plus: Developmental Milestones Record
  • Medline Plus: Fine Motor Control
  • Medline Plus: Gross Motor Control