Gross Motor

Developing the Large Muscles

Gross motor skills are skills that involve moving different body parts such as feet, legs, head, and arms.


Mom decides that her son needs something to do since it is raining outside. She finds masking tape in the drawer and tapes down a straight line on the floor. Mom asks her son to walk on the tape with his arms stretched out and try not to fall to the right or left of the tape.


Mom supports her son’s physical development when she encourages him to use his legs and arms to balance.

Gross motor skills are important because they are the foundation for your child having the ability to do more complex skills, like karate or little kid soccer.

Gross motor skills can be broken down into three areas: loco-motor skills, balance skills, and ball skills. All of these gross motor skills are necessary for your child to move through life with conf idence as he learns to play games and sports and engage in other, more complex activities like swimming.

Your child needs a lot of opportunities for physical development in these specific areas; therefore, active play is important for getting those large muscles moving. Gross motor skills develop through activities in which your child has the opportunity to move his legs, arms, and lower body.

1. Loco-motor skills—Running, jumping, hopping, and leaping forward are examples. Mickey stands with his knees bent and his arms stretched in back of him; he then propels himself forward and leaps, landing on his feet.

2. Balance skills—are movements in which your child’s body remains in place, but moves in a horizontal or vertical direction. With his arms bent and lifted to waist level during take off, Nicholas steps forward with his lead foot followed by a step from the foot behind as he gallops forward.

3. Ball skills—are throwing, kicking, and catching. Mark prepares to catch the ball by holding both hands in front of his body with his elbows slightly bent. He stretches his arms in front of himself to reach the ball as it comes to him.

Help your child develop new skills:

1. Observe the behavior in others, e.g. Tommy watches Dad shoot a basketball through the hoop.

2. Form a mental image of the behavior, e.g. Tommy then visualizes how his dad bends his knees and propels the ball up with his arms.

3. Imitate the behavior, e.g. Tommy then stands next to Dad, bends his knees, and propels the ball up with his arms.

4. Practice the behavior, e.g. Tommy does not get the ball through the hoop the first time, so he tries again.

5. Be motivated to repeat the behavior, e.g. Tommy’s dad says, “You can do it,” which motivates Tommy to keep trying.

Three year olds need a lot of opportunities for physical development; active play is important for getting those large muscles moving. When your child is having difficulty kicking a ball, first give him a moment to try to solve the problem on his own. Then you can help your child problem solve using a different strategy that you illustrate for him so he can learn to kick the ball better. Then help your child think about how he could practice this new skill.