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Motor Skill Development in Babies and Toddlers

The first five years of a child’s life are the most crucial when it comes to the basic development of their life skills. They develop communication, social and emotional intelligence, and physical or motor skills, among many others, during this time. But what exactly are motor skills, and how can you help your child become stronger physically?

Every parent wants the best for their child by providing the best surroundings and opportunities for growth. This article focuses on motor skills and the activities that may help your child develop better motor skills. 

What is Motor Development, and Why Is It Important?

Motor skills refer to the child’s ability to physically become more robust and active and move their muscles and bones to touch or feel things in their surroundings. A child’s motor skill development falls into two categories; Fine and Gross. 

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skill means small movement of hands, wrists, fingers, feet, lips, tongue, hand-eye coordination, etc. 

As the name suggests, fine motor skills may be relatively small with a lower impact, but they are big on stimulating the core areas of the brain. In addition, they allow the child to be independent and experience the feeling of “I did it on my own.” 

As a result, children are more mentally active while executing fine motor skills and create a more substantial cognitive impact by connecting their brains and body.  

Therefore, fine motor skills help children to build confidence, patience, and independence. In addition, the brain orchestrates a deeper link with fine motor movements and engraves learnings that the child uses throughout their lives. 

These skills help at home and in the classroom and enable the child to pick up numerous adaptive activities like holding a pencil, brushing teeth, washing hands, tapping on a screen, holding a spoon, etc. 

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills mean the movement of larger muscles and body parts that helps babies to hold up their head, roll over, sit up, crawl, and for older kids to walk, run, jump, skip, etc.  

The brain loves new movements and novelty. Hence when the child moves the larger parts of their bodies, the brain makes some critical connections. It is not just about your child running or learning to crawl, but it is also about the collective process of the brain understanding the process of movement and postural awareness. 

So by encouraging children to discover how their body works and performs they will develop gross motor skills. 

Having said that, the level of motor skill development varies from age to age and child to child. Generally, the motor skills start from the inner body, like the head, neck, arms, and legs, and then slowly move towards the outer body, like hands, feet, fingers, and toes. 

Why Are Motor Skills Important?

We all know that learning motor skills is necessary, but they play more of an essential role in enabling the child’s overall growth than we are usually aware. 

When a child learns to explore their surroundings through movement, touch and feel things, or play around, they can become socially and emotionally active. This means that not only are they able to categorize and understand their feelings like happiness, frustration, sadness, etc., but they are also able to interact with others during their playtime. 

Activities to Develop Motor Skills in Babies and Toddlers

Below you will find a list of fine and gross motor activities that can help your child to develop stronger and more precise motor skills. 

Fine Movements:

  • Hand-to-hand: Give them size and shape-appropriate toys that they can move from one hand to another. 
  • Small pieces of food: Place them in the feeding chair and give them baby-safe and small pieces of food for them to pick and eat on their own.
  • Paint: Let your baby/toddler play with child-safe paint with their bare hands as they learn to explore the texture and the movement of their fingers, making interesting patterns. 
  • Little Drummer: Baby drums are another great way to incorporate fine muscle exercises. 
  • Sticky notes on the floor: Stick a few vibrant colored sticky notes on your floor and let your baby peel them off. 
  • Stick push: Get them to push and pull the popsicle sticks through a carton to strengthen their muscles and cognitive development.
  • Busy board: This works great for older kids who have learned to move their hands freely.

Gross Movements:

  • Head position practice: Alternate the sides where you position your baby’s head when they sleep. It strengthens their neck muscles even when they sleep.
  • Tummy time: It is one of the most essential activities to do with a baby. Tummy time is excellent at helping them learn how to lift their heads and grow stronger back and neck muscles. You can also use a tummy time mat with high-contrast colors to keep the little one engaged. 
  • Rattle tug-of-war: It is never too late to start building the baby’s biceps. So, give them a colorful rattle, pull it gently, and enjoy the game of tug-of-war with your baby. 
  • Sitting up: Place your baby in a comfortable sit-up position where they can sit independently or with minimum help. 
  • Free movement: Once you have baby-proofed the house, scatter some of their favorite toys and guide them to crawl and collect the treasures. 
  • Create obstacle course: Create a child-safe obstacle course that allows your toddler to duck, hop over, crawl, reach, pull, sidestep, etc. 
  • Walking or racing: Go on a walk with your toddler and race with them to help them build stronger legs and lung muscles. 

Take Away

Motor skills help connect the child to new experiences. Thus, the basic movements of the body parts act as a base for several other developmental milestones in children, for example, cognition, communication, self-esteem, sensory intelligence, emotional expression, and postural control. 

Incorporating motor skill activities into your child’s playtime is much easier than expected. Simply observe whatever interests your child the most at the time and try to make it an activity including some form of motor skill. 

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