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What Are Gross and Fine Motor Skills?

Written by on . Posted in Advice, Handy Hints and Tips
What Are Gross and Fine Motor Skills?

The development of gross and fine motor skills enables individuals to learn crucial skills to live independent lives, as well as explore the world around them. 

The key difference between fine and gross motor skills development is that gross motor skills refer to large body movements needed for walking and running, while fine motor skills refer to the use of the small muscles in our hands, wrist and face to perform coordinated movements like brushing our teeth and writing. 

Gross Motor Skills 

These are the skills individuals develop using their whole body and help perform tasks such as walking, running, sitting, and throwing, as well as developing an individual’s strength, reaction time and agility.

Young children begin developing their gross motor skills by holding their heads up, rolling onto their front and back, sitting, crawling and walking. Older individuals develop gross motor skills through weight-bearing activities, strengthening their body, showing control while manipulating larger objects and developing balance.

An individual’s gross motor skills can affect the development of a healthy body, will impact their social and emotional well-being and improve confidence, agility and flexibility.

Fine Motor Skills 

We develop our fine motor skills by utilising the small muscles in and around our hands, mouth and eyes to perform certain tasks such as speech, eating, writing, opening and closing zips, buttoning and unbuttoning clothes, turning door handles, tying shoe laces, brushing teeth etc. 

Young children begin developing fine motor skills by using a finger and thumb as a pincer grip, often putting objects to their mouth, and manipulating toys and objects. Older individuals develop fine motor skills with the use of scissors, cutlery and manipulating clothing to get dressed.

The development of these muscles will impact an individual’s independence and learning.

Typical Milestones in Motor Skill Development

The development of gross and fine motor skills is often reached at key milestones within a child’s formative years. However, not all children reach each of these developmental milestones at the same time. All children develop at their own pace and may reach some milestones before or after others. As the main difference between fine and gross motor skills is the use of the larger muscles and smaller hand and face muscles, it is normal to see some children exhibiting the development of their fine motor skills before advancing in their gross motor skills, or vice versa.

While it is normal to see these differences between children, understanding when to get a second opinion can help ensure a child is getting the right support for their development into their teens and adulthood.  

Here are some of the motor skills that can typically be seen in each developmental stage;

0-3 Months

An infant may attempt to swing their arms or ‘bat’ an object.

Begin to notice their hands and may grasp at objects.

3-6 Months

An infant can hold small objects in both hands.

Uses both arms to reach for toys.

6-12 Months

Shakes toys with an auditory effect, such as rattles.

Uses their index finger and thumb as a pincer grip to pick up small objects.

Infant can sit without any support.

Infant may begin to crawl.

1 Year Old

Begins walking with help.

Builds towers with block toys.

Can push and pull toys with wheels.

Claps hands together.

2 Years Old

Can jump with both feet at the same time.

Begins simple threading with strings and large beads.

Can turn single pages of a book.

Begins dressing themselves with help.

3 Years Old

Child can run without falling.

Utilises child-safe scissors to cut paper.

Copies circles on paper.

4 Years Old

Catches a ball with their arms and hands.

Walks upstairs using alternating feet.

Can get dressed and undressed with no help.

5 Years Old

Can hold a pencil correctly and comfortably.

Can hold their balance on one foot.

Catches balls with both hands.

6 Years Old

Can throw a ball with accuracy.

Uses knife and fork at mealtimes.

Can put together simple puzzles.

Activities for Gross and Fine Motor Skill Development

Gross and fine motor skills can be learnt through a number of activities that can make the development fun and exciting. Recognising the difference between fine and gross motor skills, and the different muscles that need to be developed, will help create a mix of activities to promote both skills, giving a child, teen or adult, a well-rounded learning experience. Here are some gross and fine motor skill development activities suitable for infant and young children and teens and adults.

Fine Motor Activities for Young Children

Offering small pieces of food to develop their pincer grip

Using musical instrument toys to bang, drum, and rattle

Stacking toys or objects

Shape sorting/ posting toys


Moving objects from one hand to the other

Turning pages of a book.

 Fine Motor Activities for Older Children, Teens and Adults

Making their own food – this may include spreading, pouring, mixing, rolling etc.

Construction games, such as building blocks, modelling kits and moulding kits.

Balance games, such as Jenga or pick-up sticks.

Weaving, threading and sewing.

Creating origami or paper planes.

Cutting paper with scissors.

Card games


Gross Motor Activities for Young Children

Tummy time – this will develop their muscles for sitting and crawling.

Sitting aided and eventually unaided with toys between their legs.

Lifting objects such as cutlery at meal times.

Placing toys just out of reach to encourage forward movement, whether that’s sliding on their stomach, rocking forward or crawling.

Climbing stairs or frames – our sensory soft play equipment offers a range of soft climbing stairs, bean bags, shapes and more. Not only do these provide excellent tools to aid the development of gross motor skills in young children, but they also offer sensory stimulation and a safe place to learn and play.

Kicking or catching a balloon.

Gross Motor Activities for Older Kids, Teens and Adults

Creating an indoor or outdoor obstacle course – obstacle courses, such as our soft stepping stones, shapes set and soft steps, provoke the use of an individual’s whole body, helping to develop their balance and strength as they navigate different heights, shapes, and movements. 

Dancing to their favourite music, either freestyle or to a routine.

Walking along balance beams – our IRIS balance beam provides a great visual and interactive activity to help develop an individual’s balance.


Bike riding.

Target games – target activities such as basketball, netball, our ball throw target game or creating your own homemade targets for throwing a ball or beanbag provide a great way to develop physical movement, agility and hand-eye coordination.

Tips When Learning New Gross and Fine Motor Skills

When introducing activities for the development of gross and fine motor skills, it is important to consider a number of factors in order to make the learning process as positive and enjoyable as possible.


Positive encouragement, whether the activity has gone well or not, it is instrumental to an individual’s resilience. Praising a child’s efforts instead of results will give them more enthusiasm to try the activity again, even if they aren’t successful the first time.

Create a Mix of Activities 

Introducing a mix of activities that challenge and match the individual’s abilities will provide an opportunity for success and help increase their self-confidence. 


As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”. Repeat the activities with consistency over several weeks or more. Remember to keep things fun and enjoyable, instead of a chore that is regularly repeated.

Clear Instructions 

Keep your instructions for the activity as simple and digestible as possible so as not to overwhelm the individual. Often, just one clear instruction at a time is the best course of action when performing a new activity.

Go at the Child, Teen or Adult’s Pace 

Let their verbal or non-verbal reactions to the new activity dictate the pace at which to perform the activity. Going too fast or introducing a new activity before the individual has had some success with the first activity may lead to frustration. Allow them time for success, no matter how small this may be.

Find the Most Appropriate Learning Environment for the Individual Each individual is uniquely different from another and needs different environments to help aid receptive learning. Some may prefer to learn a new activity in small groups, while others, may prefer to work independently before joining a group. 

Aiding the development of a child’s gross and fine motor skills with fun and enjoyable activities will help develop the necessary skills that they will take into their teens and adulthood. As the difference between fine and gross motor skills is the use of larger and smaller muscles, providing individuals with a mix of activities, will provide the best support for motor skill development.

While each child will develop at a different pace, having an understanding of when each motor skill is typically met, helps identify when to seek some advice from a trained professional, such as a paediatrician, for extra support and advice.

Explore our range of sensory products to help aid the development of gross and fine motor skills in children, teens and adults. Alternatively, our blog has a wide variety of advice, from the benefits of sensory rooms, to creating an autism-friendly environment and much more.

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