Understanding the Importance of Motor Skills
If you’re a parent, you likely want to raise a healthy, happy child who will someday grow into an independent adult. There are some things you have to do to help your child grow, learn and become independent. It can be a little exciting and scary at the same time to let your child grow into his or her own person, but it’s also rewarding, especially if you supply the tools he or she needs to succeed.
It's important to spend time brushing your teeth together every night, so your child develops a healthy routine of oral self-care and learns good oral hygiene habits. To help children, grow into confident young adults, you should help them practice good general hygiene habits such as bathing daily and taking care of their nails. You should also teach them to work well with others by instilling good social skills in them. With so many different lessons you need to teach your child, it can seem exhausting and parents can sometimes overlook the importance of motor skills. However, sharpening this skill is important for your child’s growth and development and ensures he or she is on track to meeting developmental goals at certain periods during crucial growth stages. It’s important to learn what motor skills are, which milestones your child should reach by a certain age, and how to help your son or daughter develop his or her motor skills.
What Are Motor Skills?
Motor skills are generally divided into two categories called fine and gross motor skills. Each one is vital to your child’s growth and should not be ignored. Gross motor skills involve the larger movements of the body, such as the legs, arms and core. These milestones can be defined through activities such as walking, running and moving the body. These skills are built throughout the child’s life but knowing the basics can provide a good base for your child to keep honing and improving. Fine motor skills, however, have more to do with smaller movements and dexterity through coordination of smaller muscles in the body. These types of moves can be best defined through other milestones that involve the hand, fingers and thumbs. These skills can also be built upon as the child ages and continues to develop as a healthy individual.
Both types of motor skills are vital to your child’s success as an individual. Children need to be able to walk, talk, self-feed and take care of themselves. While you shouldn’t be dismayed if your child is a little behind in developing some of these skills, there are certain milestones that your healthy child should generally reach by certain ages.
Birth to Three Months
When your child is an infant, he or she grows at a rapid rate. You can practically see the learning and development right before your eyes. While there isn’t much that babies can do at such a young age, you should be able to notice certain skills develop as you nurture them during this crucial stage. They should be able to track movement, including watching their own hands and bringing them to their mouth. During this time, they should also be able to move their arms to swing at objects held in front of them, though they may not be able to grasp them yet.
Three to Six Months
From three to six months of age, your child continues to develop gross and fine motor skills by watching and mimicking your behavior. During this stage, babies should be able to roll over, support their head while sitting, and raise their arms and legs while lying on their stomach. These gross motor skills are vital to their development, and they will not be able to develop these skills further until they have this base. Their fine motor skills should be further refined at this time, and they should be able to reach for and grasp objects in their hands and hold their hands together.
Six to 12 Months
Once your child hits six months, you should start seeing many major milestones until he or she reaches a year old. By this time, your baby should be able to hold his or her own bottle if bottle-fed and pick up and put small finger foods into his or her mouth. Children at this age should also be able to use their hands to squeeze objects, such as toys or your hand. You should also see the major milestones that every anxious parent looks forward to and dreads at the same time, which is sitting up without support, crawling, pulling themselves into a standing position and soon after that, walking. During this time, you should also see your child start to show a preference for one hand over the other, which should eventually grow into the dominant hand. He or she will also want to demonstrate independence during reading time by turning the pages in a book.
12 to 18 Months
Starting at around a year old, your child should become more active and curious. Once he or she starts walking, your child is likely going to want to start climbing, which means he or she will begin to climb stairs and your furniture. During this stage, common activities include pushing and pulling toys that have wheels, building with blocks, and scooping objects with a spoon. Your child will also start using his or her hands more to wave, clap and even scribble with large crayons.
18 Months to Two Years
Your child’s development will continue to improve by leaps and bounds as he or she nears age 2. By the time your child reaches 2 years old, he or she should be developing gross motor skills more by running clumsily, walking upstairs unassisted and jumping using both feet. Fine motor skills should also see a drastic improvement as children begin to learn how to turn doorknobs, wash their hands, and zip and unzip clothes. They’ll also become more creative and be able to manipulate play dough, use toys with pegs, and correctly hold crayons when coloring.
Three to Four Years
Your independent toddler will continue to develop gross motor skills by learning to run smoothly without falling and will even be able to speed up and slow down on command. He or she should also be able to use hand-eye coordination skills to throw and catch a ball. During this stage, your child should also be able to ride a tricycle unassisted without falling. You’ll also continue to see his or her fine motor skills refine as he or she learns how to get dressed without assistance and fasten and unfasten buttons. Your curious child will also want to manipulate paper by cutting it and drawing simple shapes on it using an example. He or she should also be able to use a fork properly during mealtime.
Five Years and Up
Once your child reaches school-age, he or she should quickly develop additional skills once school starts. Teachers will work on fine and gross motor skills with your child, and he or she will want to keep up with peers, which means you'll see improvement during the school years. Among some of the gross motor skills practiced, your child should be able to hop on one foot, kick a ball as it rolls toward him or her, ride a bicycle without the assistance of training wheels, do jumping jacks, and throw accurately at a target. As his or her fine motor skills continue to improve, your child should also be able to grasp a pencil correctly, tie shoelaces, cut food with a knife, put together 20-piece puzzles, cut simple shapes and use blocks to build small structures.
If Milestones Aren’t Met
Sometimes, your child may fail to meet certain milestones within a specific target period. However, that doesn’t mean you should be concerned right away. Unless your child has neurological problems or a severe developmental delay, chances are your child is just developing at a slower rate than what’s expected. If you find that your child has not met certain milestones many months after they should have occurred, you can consult your child’s physician with your concerns. The doctor will be able to tell you if you need to consult with a professional or if your child simply needs more time and some extra help to better develop certain gross and fine motor skills. There are activities you can do with your child to help him or her refine motor skills and stay on target for his or her age range, starting as an infant.
Having tummy time as a baby is vital to helping your child learn how to push up with the arms, use the core to shift from side to side, and eventually roll over. Don’t feel bad for putting your child down for some tummy time, as it helps aid in motor skill growth. As children get a little older, you can encourage self-feeding by giving them finger foods to help improve their grasping skills. If you’re concerned about your child choking, simply cut the food up into manageable bites, stay away from certain foods that can induce choking, and never leave your child unattended while eating.
Invest in toys that encourage motor skill growth for your child, such as puzzles, play dough, paints and blocks. These items not only encourage creativity and help develop their brain, but they’re also vital to both fine and gross motor skill improvement. As they get older and want to be more independent, encourage children to dress themselves and remember to be patient, as it may take them some time to get it right.
Motor skills should be taken as seriously as any other skill you want your child to grow and develop. If you spend some time teaching your child independence and encouraging him or her to explore doing things on his or her own, you should have no issues helping your child develop motor skills.