Supporting Both Large Motor and Small Motor Development in Child Care

The child care program is a wonderful place to help children develop motor skills. “Motor skills” is a broad category that includes a wide variety of abilities — from sitting up to running and climbing and from picking up small objects to writing with a crayon or pencil. Motor skills are typically divided into two types: large motor and small motor. Child care providers can help young children develop both types of motor skills.

Large Motor Skills

Large motor skills develop rapidly during the early childhood years. Large motor skills concern the development of larger muscle movements that are responsible for running, jumping, and throwing. In infancy, crawling, lifting one’s head, rolling over, and sitting up are examples of gross motor development. By the time typically developing children are 3 to 5 years old, examples of gross motor development include being able to run, hop, balance on one foot, throw and kick a ball, climb — up stairs or playground equipment — and ride a tricycle.

Toddler pushing toy car

Small Motor Skills

Small motor skills concern the development of smaller muscle movements, mostly in the hands and fingers. Small motor skill development also involves hand-eye coordination. Small motor skills are responsible for grasping, holding, and manipulating small objects. For example, small motor skills are needed to pick up a crayon, hold a crayon and move it on a surface. Small motor skills are necessary to string beads, cut with scissors or tie shoelaces. Before young children master these tasks, they need to build their hand and finger strength and control through play.

Child drawing with red colored pencil

Coordinating Large and Small Motor Skills

Even though larger muscles usually develop before smaller muscles, more advanced motor abilities require children to coordinate large motor skills with small motor skills. Climbing up playground equipment requires them to use the large muscles of the arms and legs to propel them upward and forward. At the same time, children must use fine motor skills to coordinate eye and hand movements and to adjust their grip on the playground equipment. Children who are climbing must also coordinate the action of many muscle groups to maintain balance.

For More Information

To learn more about supporting children’s physical development in child care, check out the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: