A motor skill is an action that involves the movement of muscles in the body.

Gross motor skills are larger movements your baby makes with his arms, legs, feet, or his entire body. Crawling, running, and jumping are gross motor skills.

Fine motor skills are smaller actions. When your baby picks things up between his finger and thumb, or wriggles his toes in the sand, he’s using his fine motor skills. But it’s not just about fingers and toes; when your baby uses his lips and tongue to taste and feel objects he’s using fine motor skills, too.

When your baby is newborn, his brain is not mature enough to control skilled movement.  Development starts at his head, and then moves down his body. So your newborn baby can control his mouth, face, lips and tongue, with the rest following in time.

Your baby learns to control his neck before his shoulders, and his shoulders before his back. Your baby can control his arms before his hands, and control his hands before his fingers. 

In any area of your baby’s body, his gross motor skills develop before his fine motor skills. So he’ll be able to bring his arms together before he learns how to pass a toy from hand to hand.

You can start doing activities with your baby from birth to encourage motor skill development. Take a look at the Tummy time page under Developing Independence.

For your baby to really do things for himself, he’ll need to use gross and fine skills together. He’ll gradually get better at this as he grows into toddlerhood. 

For example, by the time your child reaches two years old he’ll be able to use a shape-sorting toy. He’ll use gross motor skills to hold his body steady enough to grasp the shapes firmly. He will then use fine motor skills to twist or turn each shape to fit the right slot.

You can encourage your baby’s development by playing games that challenge him a little. When he can sit well unsupported, put his favourite toy just out of reach. This will mean he must balance as he makes a grab for his toy. Watch for any changes in how he uses his legs, arms and fingers.

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