Motor development in the child

Nicole Wendler holds a doctorate in biology from the field of oncology and immunology. As a medical editor, author and editor, she works for various publishers, for whom she presents complex and extensive medical issues in a simple, concise and logical manner.

The motorical development the baby starts in the womb. But it is a long way from the first reflexes to independent running and skillful handling of objects. Find out here which important milestones in motor development your baby reaches at what time and how you can promote gross and fine motor skills.

Motor development – a finely tuned system

Gripping, running, clapping hands: what you have learned in the course of motor development feels child’s play. But motor actions require a precisely coordinated interplay of many different muscles. These have to be controlled correctly via the nerves. Different areas of the central nervous system (CNS) are responsible for this and feedback from different sensory organs is required – all within a few milliseconds!

Motor development – important for body, mind and soul

Motor development begins long before birth. Spontaneous movements can be observed from the 10th week of pregnancy. However, the first twitches go unnoticed for a long time, because initially the movements are too weak and there is still enough space in the stomach.

Noticeable movements in the 5th month

Around the 5th month of pregnancy, the new roommate makes itself felt for the first time, although still very hesitantly. With each month, however, the living space in mom’s belly becomes narrower and the movements stronger, so that they can then be seen or felt from outside.

Movement is also important for mental development

The training continues after the birth: grasping, crawling, sitting, standing and running. But motor development includes much more. It needs motor skills so that babies can have important sensual and physical experiences: none without eye or mouth movement See, Talk and laugh.

This means that motor development is also extremely important for social interaction and is also closely linked to mental abilities. And with every newly acquired physical ability, the independence of the little person grows!

Motor development: reflexes

Congenital involuntary reactions, triggered by a certain stimulus, are the same for everyone. Baby’s innate reflexes ensure his survival. There are reflexes that decrease with age and eventually disappear completely, but there are also reflexes that last a lifetime.

In addition to the search, suction and swallow reflex, which ensure food intake, there are numerous reflexes that accompany motor development in the first two years: grasping, striding, staple reflex or the neck reflex.

In the U-examinations, the pediatrician checks the motor development steps and can discover delays. If there are any discrepancies, this is an indication of a possible neurological disorder or a disease of the nervous system.

Motor development – big and small movements

The motor skills are divided into gross and fine motor skills. The gross motor skills here concern body motor skills and locomotion, i.e. large-scale movements of the whole body. Fine motor skills include the development of small movements of the hands and feet.

Important gross and fine motor skills that a child constantly improves in the first years of life are:

  • Body control: holding your head, straightening up, learning to sit
  • Locomotive skills: seal, crawl, learn to walk
  • Sporty motor skills: running, climbing stairs, climbing, jumping, catching, throwing
  • Hand-mouth coordination: grasping, holding, letting go
  • Dexterity of hand and fingers: tweezers handle, tool use, drawing and painting

Motor development of the child: what happens when?

Arms and legs move immediately after birth. Every month motor development progresses in the baby and it develops new skills. This clearly identifies motor development phases, so-called milestones.

Motor development table

A lot happens in the first year, as the motor development in the table shows. The monthly data are only rough guidelines. The older the child, the greater the deviations. So do not let yourself be driven crazy if the child of the same age is already running. A few weeks of delay are still completely normal.


Motorical development

Reflexes, hands mostly clenched into fists

Gross motor skills: Babies kick their arms and legs
Fine motor skills: Hands open when touching the back of the hand, merging the hands randomly

Gross motor skills: Babies can hold their heads in their arms or lift their heads briefly in the prone position, muscle training through hard-working pedaling
Fine motor skills: Merging the hands above the head in supine position, finger movements, individual fingers end up in the mouth

Gross motor skills: Babies push their legs through when resistance, head holding in prone position improves
Fine motor skills: Development of hand-mouth coordination, targeted gripping, leading objects to the mouth, holding on
yes / let go no

Gross motor skills: Sit with help, maybe first turn to the side
Fine motor skills: Targeted gripping, perhaps with the first change of hand

Gross motor skills: first turn in prone position, first attempts to seal or sit down
Fine motor skills: Flat-nose pliers, bottle to mouth, gripping in prone position, changing from hand to hand

Gross motor skills: Sitting independently, changing from prone to supine position, four-footed position and first crawling attempts
Fine motor skills: Knock two objects together

Gross motor skills: crawling quickly, standing freely or getting up with the help, sitting freely without support, first attempts to pull up
Fine motor skills: Hand games, waving and clapping

Gross motor skills: brisk crawling, safe free sitting, first attempts at standing alone, first attempts at climbing
Fine motor skills: Index finger, turning pages of baby book

Gross motor skills: Stand up and stand, possibly first steps without help
Fine motor skills: Eating with fingers, drinking from a sippy cup, throwing or dropping things, rotating movement, scissors-,
pincer grasp

Gross motor skills: Free attempts to walk, side steps by the hand
Fine motor skills: first use of tools, eating with a spoon begins

Gross motor skills: Stand and walk freely, walk sideways, climb stairs with hold
Fine motor skills: Eat with a spoon in a handle, throw a ball or stack blocks

Gross and fine motor skills: development in the second year of life

After the first birthday, practicing continues. Fine motor skills are now increasingly being perfected and the daily use of tools such as toothbrushes, spoons, children’s scissors or pencils is being learned. The tweezer handle, i.e. the coordination of the thumb and index finger to pick up tiny things, is added.

Especially when drawing and painting, fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination are getting better and better. It is normal for a two-year-old to move the pen from one hand to the other. A handedness should develop at around the age of five.

The older the child, the more interesting sports, such as foot or handball, climbing and bouncing, as well as tricycles or balance bikes become. In all of these sports activities, the children train their sense of balance and train body coordination.

What influences motor development?

Studies have identified negative and neutral factors for motor development.

Motor development in babies can be affected by the following factors:

  • Low birth weight
  • premature birth
  • Cerebral seizures
  • Early childhood brain damage (cerebral palsy)
  • Low level of education
  • Mental health problems
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Problems in the partnership

no How quickly a child reaches a milestone

  • gender
  • siblings
  • Delivery type (Caesarean section / normal birth)
  • Height and weight at birth
  • Transport as a baby (sling / stroller)
  • Mother’s age
  • size of the apartment
  • Social status
  • place of residence

Promote motor skills: what parents can do?

A good body feeling is important for the rest of life. It is beneficial for motor development if parents or educators motivate the child in various ways to move.

If a child has various play materials to choose from, this stimulates motor development. However, this does not mean that you have to buy expensive exercise equipment or have to take part in activities such as baby swimming or gymnastics. A balloon or the playground is enough.

The key requirements that promote gross motor skills are space and the ability to move freely in a safe environment. Let your child run a lot barefoot or in non-slip socks, this also promotes good balance and motor skills in children.

Gross motor skills can be promoted with the following games and activities:

  • Catch and bounce games
  • trampoline
  • Crawling
  • Balance
  • climb stairs
  • Climb
  • jumping jack
  • swim
  • Play with ball, balloon, jump rope

The fine motor skills are better if the movement environment is rather limited and the child can concentrate on the matter. Depending on your age, the following activities can promote fine motor skills:

  • Paint with pencils, brushes, crayons or floor chalk
  • Threading games with cords and pearls
  • Pegs and puzzles
  • building blocks
  • Hämmerchenspiel
  • dough
  • fold paper
  • mikado
  • Looms
  • Fingering

Motor development delayed?

Motor development in children is similar, but not identical. It is part of the spiritual development. As with every development step, children learn gross and fine motor skills at different speeds. The order of the individual motor phases does not have to be the same for every child. Sometimes individual steps are simply skipped. Both can be cultural (because certain manners restrict children’s motor skills) or be due to the fact that children have a different focus of development. Children with motor skills usually learn to speak later and linguistically gifted children later on to walk.

Sometimes there are physical blockages in babies (for example due to birth trauma) that affect the child’s motor development. After a thorough medical examination and the exclusion of serious illnesses, a visit to the osteopath can sometimes work wonders. Is the motorical development significantly impaired or seriously delayed, recognizes that the pediatrician usually pretty quickly based on the corresponding tests in the U examinations.


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Christina Cherry
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