Motor Skills Development

Children start by crawling and then learn to walk and move around more comfortably. Some struggle to tie their shoelaces, while others pick them up quickly. All these activities fall under motor skills, from crawling and walking to tying shoelaces. Attainment of these skills over one's lifetime is known as motor skills development.

What is Motor Development?

The process through which a person learns to control and use the muscles to move the body in the desired way is known as motor development. It is a process that starts as small movements in an infant and progresses through infancy and adolescence by building on one another. Children should typically learn some skills around the same age, while everyone develops differently. People should be able to fully control their muscles, comprehend how their body interacts with their environment, and regulate their environment by the time they reach maturity.

Motor development is broken down into two categories: gross motor development and fine motor development. The various muscle groups used in the movements are produced to set the two apart. The skills that require using large muscles, like those in the arms, legs, and torso, are referred to as gross motor skills. These muscles must be developed for everyday tasks like walking, running, lifting, throwing, and kicking. Body power, balance, and speed are additional factors that directly influence gross motor skills. Smaller muscles, like the ones in the hands, and their movements are referred to as fine motor abilities. Examples of fine motor abilities include gripping, using your fingers to reach, and holding objects. The development of visual-motor abilities, commonly known as "hand-eye" synchronization, is crucial for developing fine motor skills.

Gross Motor Skills

  • Uses larger muscles

  • Running, walking, etc.

Fine Motor Skills

  • Relies on smaller muscles, and hand-eye co-ordination

  • Tying shoelaces, holding a pencil, etc.

Stages of Motor Development

Seven stages have been classified throughout the lifespan, defining motor development for particular age groups. These stages are as follows −

Reflexes/Spontaneous Movement

Found from birth to 6 months, reflexes are automatic reactions to external stimuli like sound, touch, light, and movement of the body. Reflexive movements in infants are brought on by their underdeveloped neural systems. They play a crucial role in developing and developing the baby's muscles and central nervous system (CNS) and ensuring its survival. Spontaneous movements are involuntary rhythmic motions that occur irrespective of external stimuli and lay the groundwork for the development of regulated motor actions. Examples include kicking, waving your hands repeatedly, etc.

Rudimentary Movements

Voluntary motions appear as the baby's neurological system develops. Babies have a mix of reflexes, spontaneous movements, and some new voluntary movements until they are roughly 6–10 months old. The baby can exert more manual, postural, and locomotor control as more voluntary movements appear. The order in which simple movements appear appears to follow a predictable pattern. They start with the head and neck, go to the shoulders and upper body, and finally to the lower body. A similar progression can be seen in the movements, which start with the shoulders, move to the elbows, and then finish with the fingers. Establishing these simple actions lays the foundation for more complex fundamental movements in later years. By age two, a kid has typically progressed from crawling to walking and developing and using gross motor skills.

Fundamental Movements

2 to 6 years of age signifies an important turning point in a child's development. The three primary categories of motor skills are as follows−

  • Movements that get a person from one place to another are called locomotor skills, including galloping, hopping, skipping, climbing, and running.

  • Stability and balancing abilities, including twisting, turning, stretching, and bending, are non-locomotor skills.

  • Manipulative skills, such as kicking, catching, rolling, tossing, bouncing, and striking, are used to control things with the hands and feet.

Children also acquire perceptual-motor awareness when they learn to balance themselves and become aware of their bodies. These abilities lay the groundwork for effective and sophisticated motions required in the later stages of a child's development.

Sports Skills

From 6 to 12 years of age, kids can demonstrate significant improvements in their motor skills as their body size, strength, cardiorespiratory capacity, and perceptual-motor ability increase. They can adapt their basic movement abilities to sports and leisure activities as they become more fluid and refined.

Growth and Refinement

This stage accompanies adolescence. All stages of a child's development involve growth, but the most notable change in motor behavior occurs during puberty. Significant muscle and bone growth changes during this time enable children to considerably develop more complex motor skills. During this stage, gender differences in motor function become increasingly pronounced.

Peak Performance

During adulthood, particularly between the ages of 25 and 30 during this phase, people are at the pinnacle of their physiological function and motor skills. Strength, cardiorespiratory function, and processing speed are particularly affected by this.


While every person is different and there are many variations in how people age, most persons exhibit a 1%-year decline in their physiological and neurological performance. Throughout life, you start to notice declines in cardiovascular function, muscle strength and endurance, flexibility, and an increase in body fat.

Theories of Motor Development

The motor development theory emphasizes the change from reflexive to intentional motor actions with a goal. Aspects of motor control that are thought to be included in motor control theories include the production of reflexive, automatic, as well as the performance of efficient, adaptive, and voluntary movements, coordinated, goal-directed movement patterns that involve multiple body systems and levels within the nervous system.

According to the reflexive theory, while engaging in various motor activities, various reflexes are strengthened or weakened as part of the motor development process. Reflex assessments have been done as a part of the clinical evaluation procedure for people with neurological disorders. This analysis's foundation is the hierarchical theory of motor growth. On the other hand, motor programming focuses on a person's capacity to relearn appropriate action patterns in situations requiring a high degree of motor control.

Instead of a strict translation based on neural architecture, changes in motor behavior are usually characterized in terms of physical principles in dynamic theory. The conventional understanding, based on brain circuits, conflicts with this notion. According to the activity-oriented paradigm, the major focus of developmental recovery should be on fundamentally operational activities.


Motor skills enable individuals to interact with their environment allowing them to explore and secure themselves. Therefore, the development of motor abilities can trigger a series of changes in areas unrelated to motor behavior, such as perception and cognition, language and communication, emotional expression and regulation, physical development and health, etc. Finally, developing motor skills increases the functionality and adaptability of behavior. Delays in motor development are usually signs of developmental delays and can indicate underlying issues.

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023


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