Development of motor skills is a big deal for toddlers.

Basic Pattern of Motor Skill Development

by Gail Sessoms

During the first five years of life, children develop a wide range of motor skills while undergoing a complex process of cognitive, physical and emotional development and change. Yes, the child starts life as a pooping, eating, crying hunk of neediness. However, an amazing physiological pattern is afoot as the body coordinates physical growth, senses, bone structure and muscle development to prepare your child for the fine and gross motor skills he will use to one day wreak havoc in your home. Although no two children develop exactly alike, according to Virginia Tech University Extension, all humans follow a known sequence of physical development and abilities.

Motor Skills

Fine motor skills refer to the use of small muscles in the hands and fingers. Children use fine motor skills to grasp and hold items, such as rattles, balls, crayons and scissors. Fine motor development allows children to fasten the buttons on clothing, turn the pages of a book and smear spaghetti sauce on their arms. Gross motor skills use the large muscles in the body - - such as those in the back, arms and legs - - for walking, hopping and jumping. Children use gross motor skills to sit, stand, climb, kick and run from their parents in the grocery store. Your infant builds strength and learns to coordinate his movements through repetition.

The Brain is in Charge

Right under your nose, the child who eats dust from the floor is quietly following an age-old pattern of development that begins with a few innate and uncontrollable reflexes. The cephalo-caudal, proximo-distal pattern follows the pattern of growth and development of the child’s brain, according to Tufts University. The simple explanation: motor function control starts at the head, spreads down the spine and moves outward from the spine. Cognitive development, which includes awareness of movements and linking basic movements, helps the process along. Your infant stares at her hand as if it is a strange object, but as soon as she knows it is her hand, she will learn to move the arm, the hand and the fingers.

Gross Motor Sequence

The motor sequence is the series of new movements children make as strength and physical development increases. The pattern requires specific physical changes and capabilities to occur before a new ability is possible. Infants start with control of the head and trunk. A baby learns to lift and move his head followed by the ability to roll over from stomach to back and reverse at about 5 months old. With the development of the neck and back muscles, a 4-to-6-month-old child can sit in a high chair, move himself to a sitting position and pull himself along in some variation of a crawl. With increased arm and leg strength, he can stand and walk with support. Soon, he will be able to walk without support, and it will be time to toddler-proof the house.

Fine Motor Skill Progression

The progression of fine motor skills begins with the infant’s hands closed most of the time, progresses to a grasp reflex at about 2 months of age and ends with the hands mostly open at three months. By 5 months of age, she can voluntarily grasp an object. Soon, she can inspect objects visually, put them in her mouth and move them from hand to hand. From 5 months old to 1 year old, she goes through a series of grasp stages culminating in the finger-thumb or pincer. Now she can hold a cup and turn the pages in a book. Between the ages of 2 and 3, she learns to dress herself. Yes, the shirt is buttoned all wrong, the pants are on backward and the shoes are on the wrong feet, but she is fully dressed and beaming with pride.

About the Author

Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.

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