Gross Motor skills in our children develop across a wide variety of stages and are imbedded in developmental milestones. Gross motor milestones are often the most common red flag for parents and caregivers; for example, it is easier to label when a child can not crawl as opposed to delayed social emotional skills.
Gross motor skills are those which require whole body movement, and which involve the large (core stabilizing) muscles of the body to perform everyday functions, such as standing and walking, running and jumping, and sitting upright at the table. They also includes eye-hand coordination skills such as ball skills (throwing, catching, kicking) as well as riding a bike or a scooter and swimming. (Kidsense)
Gross Motor Skills Include: Strength/Endurance
As a child develops gross motor skills, they develop strength and endurance. All strength develops proximal to distally starting from their core. Core strength is developed through postural control. As a baby does tummy time, rolling and eventually to balancing on one foot starts with proximal strength. It is important that children use muscular strength and not joint strength (hyperextending joints) which can be common when children had low tone.
Motor planning is the ability to conceive, plan, and carry out a skilled, non-habitual motor act in the correct sequence from beginning to end. Incoming sensory stimuli must be correctly integrated in order to form the basis for appropriate, coordinated motor responses. Motor planning skills are not innate. They are acquired with time and practice. A child’s brain must learn to communicate with their body and muscles, and slowly, the complexity of tasks they’re capable of increases until they become automatic. Motor planning is often referred to as Praxis. During movement, the brain receives and gives feedback about the body’s actions. This feedback helps to make small performance-improving changes. Coordination improves with repetition. The movement becomes more efficient and effortless; eventually, the brain and body move together automatically.
A Child with Difficulty Motor Planning May:
Struggle to identify the steps needed to complete a task, and the correct order to do them in
Frequently bump into things due to a lack of spatial awareness
Fail to hit age-appropriate milestones, like hopping or kicking
Be slow to perform simple tasks
Have issues with handwriting
Struggle to learn new tasks
Struggle with consistency in performance
Appear uncoordinated and clumsy
Have poor hand-eye coordination
Lack timing and rhythm
Children that experience motor planning challenges have difficulty implementing the feedback their bodies provide. They may struggle to plan and organize movements required for age-appropriate motor skills. Since they’re not able to easily grasp the feedback, they may seem clumsy or uncoordinated, even if they’ve done the task before. This can affect their self-confidence and/or academics and social skills. (Lumiere Child)
This is a child’s ability to process vestibular feedback (fluid in their semi-circular canals) in order to hold their head and body in a position. As a child develops gross motor skills such as rolling, sitting, and cruising they learn head righting and body awareness which provides vestibular feedback for balance.
We often think of balance as standing on one foot or standing on a balance beam but basic balance linked to gross motor development begins in infancy with vestibular processing and knowing where our head and body are in space (head righting). For example, when they first start to learn head control when you are holding them; when you lean forward in order for them to not fall backward, they lean into you. This skill continues to develop and grow to give a child a strong sense of balance as they grow.
This is a very important part of the gross motor category. This is the integrity of a movement pattern. When a child develops gross motor skills it is usually through play and the integration of reflexes. Therefore, it often does not begin as an intention motor plan or movement pattern. As a child starts to do a skill more often it become coordination therefore, it is slow, controlled, purposeful, meaningful, when asked and when in play.
Developmental Coordination Disorder is a common diagnosis in childhood. This condition makes it hard to learn motor skills. It’s not a learning disorder, but it can impact learning. It is often referred to as Dyspraxia is when a child struggles with certain skills in development. These skills include movement and coordination. It may also include oral motor movements, fine motor control and delay in skill acquisition.
Ball skills refer to a child’s ability to throw, catch, dribble, bounce, and kick a ball. It is very tied to eye hand coordination and motor planning. Ball skill are a very important skill for children because games with balls are how children play, seek new friends, gain confidence with sports.
Ocular Motor skills such as convergence/divergence, visual tracking and visual attention can affect a child’s ability to acquire ball skills.