Motor Development Principles

Original Editor - Robin Tacchetti based on the course by Krista Eskay
Top Contributors - Robin Tacchetti and Jess Bell

Motor Development[edit | edit source]

Motor development is a term used to describe the way in which a child develops or acquires movement patterns and skills.[1] Motor development is a result of maturation and not practice. Motor skills develop in a typical or predictable trajectory; they are sequential, with each one building upon the next. Motor development "is a continuous process of modification".[1] In contrast, motor learning is a relatively permanent change in motor skills due to practice. Motor learning is not something that is observable, but something that is "assumed based on long-term performance changes".[2] For more information on motor learning, please see: Motor Learning - Back to the Basics.

There are many factors that may influence motor development:[3]

  • age of the child
    • intrinsic factor
    • what you would expect based on a child's age?
      • e.g. a 3-month-old would be expected to be working on bringing their hands together, smiling at their caregiver, rather than walking
  • cognition
    • intrinsic factor
    • ability to understand and participate in a task
    • a child might have specific skills to participate in a task, but be able to perform it because they do not have the necessary cognitive ability to process the information
  • genetics
    • intrinsic factor
    • the "genetic factors for each individual that make us our unique selves can definitely influence our ability to develop particular motor skills and the level that we can get to with those motor skills."[3]
  • perceptual: i.e. vestibular and visual function
    • might be intrinsic or extrinsic
      • extrinsic: a baby who is never picked up and is lying on their back all the time would not get the same visual / vestibular inputs and might not develop these functions as expected
      • instrinsic: a specific condition affecting vision or the vestibular system
  • neurological
    • central nervous system and brain function
    • e.g. a stroke in utero
  • mechanical
    • joint range of motion, force production, joint alignment and bony anatomy
    • it is important to note that the joint alignment or mobility of a child who is born with a specific disability might change over time
      • e.g. while cerebral palsy is non-progressive, a joint contracture might get worse over time

** This video below by Pathways[4] demonstrates the typical and atypical motor development of a 2-month-old in a side by side comparison:

Gross vs. Fine Motor Skills[edit | edit source]

Motor development can be further divided into gross motor skills or fine motor skills. Large muscle movements of the trunk and limbs, such as walking, sitting and rolling, would be examples of gross motor skills. Smaller muscle movements of the wrist and fingers, such as grasping, cutting and eating, would be classified as fine motor skills.[5] [6]

Gross Motor Skills[edit | edit source]

Gross motor skills can be further divided into locomotor and object control skills. The majority of gross motor skills are locomotor, including walking, running, jumping, crawling, etc. Object control skills involve the child using an object/toy to build, climb, throw, catch, push, pull, etc.[7] Boys typically tend to develop gross motor skills faster than females.[7]

Fine Motor Skills[edit | edit source]

Fine motor skills involve the coordination between the eyes and hands, eyes and feet or eyes, hands and feet. Fine motor skills typically develop after gross motor and require more patience.[8] Most fine motor skills require an individual to use an object and are not locomotor in nature. Some examples of fine motor skills include threading, beading, cutting, weaving, etc. Females tend to develop fine motor skills faster than males.[7]

Skill Acquisition[edit | edit source]

New skill acquisitions are continually adapted with each successful skill leading to the development of another.[1] [9] The first six years of a child's life are focused on learning and practising functional motor skills.[10] From 6-12 years old, children will refine these motor skills and develop a new combination of skills.[11]

Motor development occurs based on the interplay of three factors: the individual, the environment and the task.[9] Each of these components, also known as constraints, can hinder or assist in motor skill acquisition.[9]

Individual Constraints[edit | edit source]

Individual constraints are characteristics that are specific to the individual. They can be divided into either structural or functional constraints. Structural constraints are characteristics that are within the individual's own body structure, such as weight, height and leg length. These features change with ageing and growth. Over time, changes in structural features are slow. Functional constraints refer to the individual's behavioural functions, such as their attention, motivation and fear. Functional characteristics can change over a shorter period of time.[9]

Task Constraints[edit | edit source]

Task constraints are features that are external to the body that are related to the task goal.[9] Task constraints delineate tasks that need to be performed to accomplish the goal, such as rules, instructions and equipment. Task constraints are features that are external to the body.[9]

Environmental Constraints[edit | edit source]

Environmental constraints include anything in the physical world that is not part of the individual's body. Any environmental experience / constraint can shape motor development and mastery.[1] Environmental constraints can be classified into physical or sociocultural.[9] Physical constraints exist outside of the body and are related to the world around the individual. Examples of physical characteristics include the temperature, the floor surface and lighting. Sociocultural features include the individual's social relationships and their cultural beliefs.[9]

Specific Environmental Factors[edit | edit source]

Specific environmental factors can play a role in how quickly an individual completes a motor task. Research shows various environmental determinants help increase motor development in children, specifically locomotor and object control skills. The list below highlights these positive determinants:[12]

  1. Higher parental educational level
  2. Better nutrition
  3. The number and availability of age-appropriate toys
  4. Amount of time freely moving about/more space
  5. More time spent outdoors resulted in better locomotor skills
  6. Having older siblings to imitate[12] - although in some cases, having a sibling can hinder development[13]

Resources[edit | edit source]

Resources[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Malina RM. Motor development during infancy and early childhood: Overview and suggested directions for research. International journal of sport and health science. 2004;2:50-66.
  2. Magill R, Anderson D. Motor learning and control. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing; 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Eskay K. Motor Development Principles Course. Plus, 2022.
  4. 2022
  5. Gonzalez SL, Alvarez V, Nelson EL. Do gross and fine motor skills differentially contribute to language outcomes? A systematic review. Frontiers in psychology. 2019 Dec 3;10:2670.
  6. Sorgente, V., Cohen, E.J., Bravi, R. and Minciacchi, D., 2021. Crosstalk between Gross and Fine Motor Domains during Late Childhood: The Influence of Gross Motor Training on Fine Motor Performances in Primary School Children. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(21), p.11387.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Early Impact. 12 Differences between Gross Motor and Fine Motor Skills. 2022. Available from:
  8. Sutapa P, Pratama KW, Rosly MM, Ali SK, Karakauki M. Improving Motor Skills in Early Childhood through Goal-Oriented Play Activity. Children. 2021 Nov 2;8(11):994.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 Haywood KM, Getchell N. Life span motor development. Human kinetics; 2021.
  10. Wang H, Chen Y, Liu J, Sun H, Gao W. A follow-up study of motor skill development and its determinants in preschool children from middle-income family. BioMed Research International. 2020 Oct;2020.
  11. Derikx, D.F., Houwen, S., Meijers, V., Schoemaker, M.M. and Hartman, E., 2021. The relationship between social environmental factors and motor performance in 3-to 12-year-old typically developing children: a systematic review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(14), p.7516.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Barnett LM, Hnatiuk JA, Salmon J, Hesketh KD. Modifiable factors which predict children’s gross motor competence: A prospective cohort study. International journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity. 2019 Dec;16(1):1-1.
  13. Eskay K. Motor Development Principles Course. Plus, 2022.