Understanding, Identifying, And Developing The Gross Motor Skills In Pre-schoolers

Last Updated on October 10, 2023 by Editorial Team

How to develop gross motor skills in preschoolers? If you have a certain gap in your understanding of this topic, we suggest you read this post till the end.

For the uninitiated, Gross motor skills are defined as the ability to make movements that involve limbs and torso muscles. A well-developed gross motor skill is a collective outcome of:

  • coordination,
  • awareness about the body,
  • weight shifting,
  • movement planning,
  • endurance, and
  • balance maintenance.

All the above essentialities convey that motor skills should be age-appropriately developed in pre-schoolers. Children gain better awareness about their surroundings with the help of these skills. These define the kids’ language development trajectory too. (Sandy L. Gonzalez, et al., 2019)

As a parent or teacher, seeing a child struggle through activities like standing, sitting erect, or walking without stumbling, becomes a little overwhelming. But, with the knowledge of ways to develop gross motor skills, you can tackle the situation rather comfortably.

In this post, we intend to walk you through:

  • What are gross motor skills in pre-schoolers
  • Why gross motor skills are important
  • How to develop gross motor skills in toddlers
  • Ways to assess gross motor skills in pres-schoolers
  • Symptoms of poor gross motor skills in early childhood

What are gross motor skills in pre-schoolers

Walking, sitting upright, climbing, bending, and even standing, characterize gross motor skills in children. These skills also contribute to balance maintenance abilities, cognitive awareness, strength, and response patterns in children. Some common examples of these skills in pre-schoolers are:

gross motor skills
  • Ability to walk without support
  • Squatting
  • Bend to pick something
  • Perch upon a chair or anything at a comfortable height
  • Ability to crawl
  • Pull a toy by the string

The locomotory and manipulative movements in children are the outcomes of strong gross motor skills.

According to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, VCU, the child should have attained mastery in the following abilities at pre-schooler stages:

  • By one year: Should stand independently
  • One year, three months: walks without support, squats, and stands back up easily, climb up and down the stairs with support
  • By two years: Runs, jumps, kicks a ball, climbs stairs independently
  • At three years: Balance on one foot for a few seconds, does a broad jump, catches a big ball
  • By four years: Skips apart from walking, jumping, running, Hops on one foot with dexterity, somersaults, rides a tricycle
  • By five years: Swims and skates, climbs well, skips on feet alternately

If these skills are conspicuously absent, parents may need to get the child checked for the possibility of any neuromuscular development disorder. When unattended, these may lead to poor cognitive and language skills later.

Why gross motor skills are important

Gross motor skills[1] are an important indicator of cognitive development needs in later stages (Hill, 2010). For their age, the importance of these skills lies in:

  • These skills are essential for carrying out daily activities independently and correctly.
  • Useful to perform physical activities like playing, and exercising, which help attain, balance, strength, and bodily flexibility.
  • Since physical activities help maintain better oxygen levels in the body, these skills allow for attaining better concentration and mental agility[2].
  • A sharp memory, concept retention ability, and memory recall develop appreciably in the presence of strong gross motor skills in pre-schoolers. Thus, the ability to learn and grasp all requisite skills of a physical, academic, and recreational nature improves.
  • These skills contribute to the social and emotional well-being of children and support psychological growth.[3]

How to develop gross motor skills in toddlers

Listed here are a few research-backed activities that can be used to develop gross motor skills at the preschool stage. These activities aim at imparting core strength, enhanced coordination, mental agility, and balancing skills to children.

  • Kinesthetics-based sports: Sprint, throwing a ball, and long jumps are some of the physical activities[4] that can help improve gross motor skills in toddlers.
  • Obstacle course-based games: Put some obstacles on the athletic track like balls or podiums and ask the child to manipulate them and run to the finish line. These sports based on obstacle courses[5] help children learn to balance, improve coordination, and make correct movement decisions.
  • Games for body awareness and motor planning: Play ‘Follow the Leader’ kind of games that create scope for visual copy and planning instant bodily reactions. (Based on findings of ‘Physical Activities to do with Children,’ University of Nevada)
  • Balancing moves like walking on a beam, a line on the ground, or standing on one leg: It is an activity used in standardized balance test procedures and is one of the most popular activities children look forward to in the preschool stage.

Ways to assess gross motor skills in preschoolers

  1. McCarthy Children’s Psychomotricity and Aptitude Scales (MSCA) battery of psychomotor tests: Helps to profile children[6] based on the motor development
  2. Movement Assessment Battery and test of motor competence for Children: Helps assess children’s coordination and balancing abilities[7].
  3. Bruininks–Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency (BOTMP): It consists of 46 items divided into four subtests aimed at checking Agility, Balance, Coordination, Response Speed, etc. This test does not differentiate fine and gross motor skills clearly and so is considered a test of general motor skills[8].
  4. Peabody Development Motor Scales: It is a standardized procedure used to assess gross motor skills[9] in children in isolation. It has six subtests: Stationary, Locomotion, Grasping Power, Visual-Motor Integration (or hand-eye coordination), Reflex assessment, and Object manipulation.

Symptoms of poor gross motor skills in early childhood

The inability to plan and perform movements or movements-based activities is called Dyspraxia[10]. Poor motor skills are the co-morbidities or outcomes of this neurological disorder and can persist in people even in the adult stage. Early intervention can become possible when parents or teachers pay attention to the following symptoms in preschoolers:

symptoms of gross motor skills
  • Difficulty in riding a bicycle or hopping on to even a low height surface
  • Delayed sitting or inability to maintain balance while standing
  • Dropping things more than often
  • Gait disorder
  • Fidgety limb movements
  • Lack of rhythm in dancing
  • Poor hand-eye coordination

These problems manifest into psychological problems. They demonstrate an inability to make friends, avoid socialization, exhibit poor confidence or low esteem, or show unexplained irritable behavior.

Wrapping up,

Gross motor skills are essential for a normal childhood and form the base for acquiring more skills in later life stages. The parents can get timely intervention when they pay attention to the difficulties related to motor movements children display. Also, it is advisable to indulge kids in lots of physical activities to become strong and agile, both physically and mentally.


  1. Leonard H.C. & Hill E.L. (2014). The impact of motor development on typical and atypical social cognition and language: A systematic review. Child & Adolescent Mental Health, ?, ?-?. (John Wiley & Sons Ltd) DOI: 10.1111/camh.12055
  2. Zeng, N., Ayyub, M., Sun, H., Xu, W., Xiang, P., & Gao, Z. (2017). Effects of physical activity on motor skills and cognitive development in early Childhood: a systematic review. BioMed Research International, 2017, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/2760716
  3. Hestbaek, L., Andersen, S.T., Skovgaard, T. et al. Influence of motor skills training on children’s development evaluated in the Motor skills in PreSchool (MiPS) study-DK: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial, nested in a cohort study. Trials 18, 400 (2017).
  4. Sutapa, Panggung & Suharjana, Suharjana. (2019). IMPROVING GROSS MOTOR SKILLS BY GROSS KINESTHETIC-AND CONTEMPORARY-BASED PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IN EARLY CHILDHOOD. Jurnal Cakrawala Pendidikan. 38. 540-551. 10.21831/cp.v38i3.25324.
  5. Klingberg B, Hoeboer JJAAM, Schranz N, Barnett LM, De Vries SI, Ferrar K. Validity and feasibility of an obstacle course to assess fundamental movement skills in a pre-school setting. J Sports Sci. 2019 Jul;37(13):1534-1542. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2019.1575326. Epub 2019 Feb 16. PMID: 30774007.
  6. Ruiz-Esteban, C., Andrés, J. T., Méndez, I., & Morales, Á. (2020). Analysis of Motor Intervention Program on the Development of Gross Motor Skills in Preschoolers. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(13). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17134891
  7. Tortella, P., Haga, M., Loras, H., Sigmundsson, H., & Fumagalli, G. (2016). Motor Skill Development in Italian Pre-School Children Induced by Structured Activities in a Specific Playground. PLOS ONE, 11(7), e0160244. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0160244
  8. Wiart, L., & Darrah, J. (2001). Review of four tests of gross motor development. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 43(4), 279-285. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8749.2001.tb00204.x
  9. Van Den Wymelenberg, K., Deitz, J., Wendel, S., & Kartin, D. (2006). Early Intervention Service eligibility: Implications of using the Peabody Developmental Motor scales. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 60(3), 327–332. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.60.3.327
  10. Pusponegoro, H. D., Efar, P., Soebadi, A., Firmansyah, A., Chen, H., & Hung, K. (2016). Gross Motor Profile and Its Association with Socialization Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Pediatrics & Neonatology, 57(6), 501-507. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedneo.2016.02.004

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