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Developing motor skills (muscle skills)

Dean M. Clifford, PhD

It takes practice for a child to learn to move his body easily and well. To do this, children must develop motor skills.  Your child needs these skills to do well in school and at play.

There are two kinds of motor skills:

Small motor skills use our small muscles (like eyes or fingers) and use more than one part of the body at the same time .

Skills include:

  • Working with crayons and markers
  • Cutting with safety scissors
  • Tying shoelaces or getting them through holes
  • Fitting puzzle pieces together

Large motor skills use our large muscles (like arms or legs).

Skills include:

  • Crawling, walking, running, skipping, hopping, throwing, catching, kicking, climbing and more.

Some children seem to be able to use their large and small muscles more easily than others. But all children can improve motor skills and the best way is by practicing them. As a parent, your help is very important:

  • Give your child lots of chances to practice small and large motor skills.
  • Join in the fun!
  • Praise each success your child has.

Here are some suggestions for activities that will help your child develop small and large motor skills.


Let your toddler:

  • Have safe things to stack, put inside one another and take apart.
  • Turn pages in books.
  • Pour water in and out of containers.
  • Scribble on paper.
  • Unwrap toys hidden in paper.
  • Play with a shape sorter box.
  • Play with switches, handles and locks you have mounted on a board.

Let your pre-schooler:

  • Cut with safety scissors.
  • Draw with large crayons, markers, or chalk.
  • Punch holes in paper plates and sew with shoelaces.
  • Fingerpaint with shaving cream
  • Put wooden puzzles together.
  • Play with clay.


Let your toddler or preschooler:

  • Play with bean bags (throw, catch and toss into baskets).
  • Play balancing games (one foot . . . two knees . . . bottom only).
  • Walk along a line marked with tape or chalk.
  • Play tug of war with an old towel.
  • Play games such as hopscotch.
  • Have fun with riding toys.
  • Blow bubbles and chase them.
  • Bat balloons with wrapping- paper tubes.

Watch your child confidence grow as motor skills improve!

- Dean M. Clifford, PhD.

Reprinted with permission of zerotofive.org ( www.zerotofive.org )