Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Motor Development: A Brief Overview

Motor Development: A Brief Overview1

Motor development refers to the development of a child’s bones, muscles and ability to move around and manipulate his or her environment. Motor development can be divided into two sections: gross motor development and fine motor development.

  • Gross motor development involves the development of the large muscles in the child’s body. These muscles allow us to sit, stand, walk and run, among other activities.
  • Fine motor development involves the small muscles of the body, especially in the hand.

Motor development also involves how well children’s muscles work. This is referred to as muscle tone. Children need a balanced muscle tone in order to develop their muscles and use them with ease when standing, sitting, rolling, walking, running, swimming and all other other postures and actions.

Motor development also involves the child’s vestibular and proprioceptive systems. Both of these are part of the child’s sensory system.

  • The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and allows the body to maintain balance.
  • The proprioceptive system involves the inner ear, the muscles, joints and tendons. It allows the body to understand where it’s located. Maintaining balance and posture and having coordinated movements are only possible if the proprioceptive system is functioning well.

The typical development of a child’s motor skills usually follows a predictable order or sequence.

  • Development occurs from the inner body to the outer body. This means that children usually develop or gain control over their arms before they develop or gain control over their fingers.
  • Development also starts from top to bottom. Children need to control their head first, then they will gain control over their legs and feet.


How well a child’s motor skills are developing will influence how well they do in other developmental areas:

  • Motor skills and cognitive development: Children are more likely to explore their environment if they are able to move easily or change positions.
  • They are also more likely to draw and write if they have good control of their finger muscles.
  • Motor skills and the development of self-help skills: Solid motor control helps children learn how to finger-feed and later use utensils (e.g. forks, spoons, chopsticks), to dress and undress, brush teeth and wash hands and face, and to learn to use the bathroom.
  • Motor skills and communication development: Having control over the oral/motor area allows a child to learn to pronounce letters and sounds correctly. This is articulation.
  • Motor skills and social and emotional development: Motor skills are needed for sitting properly, for speaking, for eating and drinking. How others react to how well a child does all this may have either a positive or negative impact on that child’s development.
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