Both gross motor skills and fine motor skills are what enable all of us, babies, toddlers, children and adults, to be physically active and control our bodies. While your baby’s motions may seem random and uncontrolled, control over his limbs develops gradually. Gross motor development involves the group of large muscles that control the head, shoulders, arms, back, abdomen and feet. As you baby grows, his gross motor development occurs naturally. But the quality and pace of the progress is influenced by practice and repetitive exercises. The environment you create for your baby helps set this pace and quality, with appropriate play and activities that provide important stimulation.
The development of gross motor skills is a delicate balance of the baby’s brain, her nervous system and muscles. In her first three years of life, your child's gross motor development is really quite spectacular. From movement that is completely governed by involuntary reflexes and being totally dependant, your child develops into an independent and unstoppable bundle of movement by the age of three – with the control to run, jump, throw and kick a ball. Development of the muscles involved in gross motor development begins as soon as your baby is born. These are the muscles your baby first uses to raise her head. Then on to rolling over, crawling, sitting up and eventually walking. All this happens in a set pattern, with each stage a precursor for the next. For example, your baby won’t be able to move on to sitting before she can raise her head and chest off the ground. The progress and direction of this development is from the neck muscles down, from the center of the body outward, and eventually in coordination with the entire body. Natural motivation is what fuels this delicately phased development, but the appropriate environment that you provide most definitely enhances the process: Holding your baby in the prone position and giving her room to practice her natural skills helps put a healthy pace into motion.
As your baby matures he gains control of his body through appropriate sensory stimulation, practice and support from his environment as the dominance of reflexes fades. When this voluntary movement takes over, your heart may go out to see your baby “struggle” with gargantuan efforts to lift his head, or try to walk despite falling every few steps. You may wonder: What keeps him going? The answer lies, in part, to the fact that babies are simply born with an innate desire to progress along the "rocky road" of development – despite the obstacles, effort and bumps and bruises along the way. Remember: your baby is born with essentially no control over his muscles or movements. All of his actions – even feeding – are caused by either reflexes, or random spasmodic movement of the limbs. As he matures and gains more control through appropriate sensory stimulation, practice and support from his environment, the dominance of the reflexes fades and voluntary movement takes over. This inborn urge continues and strengthens by learning and discovering new things. Every gross motor development milestone brings with it a new discovery. When your baby rolls over the first time by chance, his sensory perception of the world is literally turned upside down. By seeing and feeling new things from a different perspective, his natural curiosity and senses are stimulated. He can’t wait to do it again, and this time, won’t wait for chance; he will try and try till he gets it.
Give your baby lots of safe, secure space to practice her newly discovered skills so she can move on to the next ones. But remember – babies develop at their own pace and this pace is a function of maturity AND practice. When it comes to gross motor development, every stage is important. Be careful not to inhibit development in the current stage, by pushing your baby on to the next. Positive reinforcement is an integral part of the process. It is important to remember that there is absolutely no connection between future intellectual ability and the pace of your baby’s gross motor development. At the same time, it is important for you to be aware of the major milestones. This allows you to spot trouble early, so that if intervention is necessary, it will be most effective. Also, this helps avoid unrealistic expectations, which can lead to frustration and negative feelings that could inhibit your baby's development.
Any advice and information provided in this website is given as suggestions only and should not be taken as a professional medical diagnosis or opinion. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent.