What Are Motor Skills: A Comprehensive Guide

Not sure what motor skills are? Look no further. This article highlights all you need to know about it.

Interestingly, they are skills we do every day and they do not need any special training to perform. It involves the movement of the body: the head, hand, and legs, among others.

You can perform motor skills while on a spot or by moving around from place to place. Generally, both children and adults exercise them, but at different levels of precision. This invariably means that it is possible to develop and grow these movements in individuals.

This article explains what motor skills are: their meaning, types, and examples, their development phase in infants, how to develop them, and the reasons for poor motor skills.

What Do Motor Skills Mean?

They are the movement of specific parts of the body to perform a task. Some of these tasks are basic activities we carry out daily.

For example, standing, walking, crawling, jumping, etc. They further include activities that are not so basic like playing the drum, tying shoelaces, etc.

Basically, motor skills involve the use of the fingers, toes, hands, legs, etc. Also, the brain and the nervous system and body muscles coordinate these movements.

Finally, these movements can improve through constant practice. For example, babies learn to stand and walk by holding on to things after several attempts.

Over time, they gain the balance to walk without aid from anyone or anything. The ability or mastery to perform a motor skill through constant practice is regarded as motor learning.

What Are The Types Of Motor Skills?

They are basically two types:

1. Gross motor skills

This involves the use of large muscles of the body like the legs and hands to perform tasks. These tasks include walking, crawling, jumping, etc.

Most motor skills do not require special training. They are skills that we perform without using too much effort or thinking too much about them. Also, they are skills that we cannot forget easily even after a long time of use.

Additionally, they can be grouped into two. They are locomotive skills and object control skills. Locomotive skills include standing, walking, running, etc.

On the other hand, object-control skills include catching, kicking, and throwing.

2. Fine motor skills

These are skills that we perform with smaller muscles in the wrist, toes, fingers, and feet. They include tasks such as playing the piano, writing with a pen, brushing the teeth, etc.

Some of them are activities that are easy to forget if not done consistently. Also, most of them require some form of training to acquire.

Examples of Motor Skills

Some examples of gross motor skills are:

  • Crawling
  • Walking
  • Hopping
  • Jumping
  • Running
  • Climbing
  • Skipping
  • Kicking
  • Grabbing and throwing big objects

On the other hand, examples of fine motor skills include:

  • Tying shoelaces
  • Brushing the teeth and flossing
  • Opening and closing the zips
  • Buttoning and unbuttoning clothes
  • Turning knobs, and locks with keys
  • Writing
  • Pouring drinks
  • Playing the keyboard
  • Cutting with scissors

What Are Poor Motor Skills?

It is a deficiency in the performance of motor skills due to several factors. These factors range from illnesses to injuries, to brain loss, to problems with the nervous system, to stroke, fatigue, and developmental disabilities such as ADD.

Additionally, disability in gross motor skills is more noticeable than fine motor skills. This is because gross motor skills are early-stage movements and are more anticipated.

For example, you expect your child to toss from side to side, crawl, try to stand, and walk at certain ages.

It is important to note that some children may have difficulty with fine motor skills. For instance, a defect in writing is called dysgraphia. This set of children may need occupational therapy, assistive technology, or modification.

Factors that Affect Motor Skills

Many factors determine the performance of these skills in individuals. They include:

1. Growth of the body

The ability to perform motor skills increases with the increase in body parts. For instance, throwing a ball requires that you have a firm arm and hand. As the length and firmness of the arm and hand increase, you become better at throwing objects.

2. Maturation

Certain activities, particularly fine motor skills progress as an individual matures psychologically. A good example is the tying of shoelaces.

Children between the ages of one to five (1-5). The development of the brain and the nervous system gives children the ability to perform better.

3. Experience

These involve a collection of activities from which an individual garners knowledge or skills. This means that the more an individual constantly carries out specific activities, the more experienced he becomes.

Furthermore, repeating a task over and over again improves the competence of an individual in performing a motor skill. For instance, a child learns to use a pencil well through continuous teaching and practice.

4. Adaptation

Adaptation is the process of adjusting to the condition of the environment. For example, most individuals had to learn to sew with needles and thread before the invention of sewing machines.

Today, both manual and electronic sewing machines involve the use of the hands and the legs.

As a result, those interested in sewing have to learn to coordinate their feet and hands at the same time to sew clothes.

5. Anxiety

Anxiety affects performance. The higher the anxiety, the more the possibility of error or mistakes while undertaking the task. However, a low anxiety level means that the individual is not excited about the task and this may lead to underperformance.

As such, a balanced anxiety level is required to perform motor skills efficiently.

6. Fatigue

Another big influence on the performance of motor skills is the fatigue level of individuals. Carrying out a stressful activity for a long period can lead to fatigue and deterioration in optimum performance.

For instance, an athlete may sustain a high-speed level in a hundred-meter race (100m). But in the case of a marathon, it would be difficult to maintain a high speed for that long due to fatigue.

Furthermore, it is difficult to learn new motor skills when you are tired. As such, it is crucial to stay energetic while learning or carrying out these activities, particularly ones that involve power.

7. Gender

According to studies, it is said that boys are more skillful in performing gross motor skills. This holds true because boys are better at throwing, kicking, and running, which involves the use of large muscles.

The Principles of Motor Skills

The development of motor skills is gradual. From early childhood, children learn to perform certain tasks, and as they advance into adolescence and adulthood, they develop the ability to perform specific and complex tasks.

The process of development of motor skills is based on these three concepts:

1. Cephalocaudal

Here, it is said that development starts from the head. This is because babies start by trying to lift their heads, before learning to sit.

After which, they learn to crawl, stand with assistance and finally gain balance to walk on their own.

2. Proximodistal

In this case, it is said that humans learn to move the closer parts of the body before the ones further away.

For instance, babies start by moving the thigh before learning to move the feet, and then the toes.

3. Gross to specific

This means that humans develop motor skills that involve the use of larger muscles first before smaller muscles. In other words, humans develop gross motor skills before fine.

A good example is the ability to pick up bigger objects or toys before smaller ones like a pen which involves the use of fingers.

Furthermore, as humans grow, we are able to perform specific tasks that involve the use of smaller muscles.

Stages of Motor Learning

Motor learning is a permanent change in the ability to perform a task. It means that an individual has attained perfect competence in performing such a task.

That said, the stages of development of motor learning are categorized into three:

1. Cognitive Phase

At this phase, an individual is newly introduced to a task. During this process, he makes mistakes and learns strategies to perform the task.

A good example is seen in how babies learn to stand or walk. They start by holding on to things around them. At this level, they fall again and again, but as they make more attempts to stand they continue to improve.

2. Associative Phase

This is a phase where the learner has discovered the best way to perform the task but keeps tweaking his or her strategies for optimum performance.

It is an important phase for perfecting motor skills. For instance, as an individual consistently practices on the keyboard, he learns new and better ways to play.

3. Autonomous Phase

This is a phase where the learner can now perform the task subconsciously. For instance, infants are able to walk independently without falling or stumbling at the age of three to four years old.

How Can You Improve A Child’s Performance in Motor Skills?

You can improve motor skills in your child by engaging them in fun activities that compel them to move around or use their hands, fingers, wrist, legs, and toes.

These help them to put their muscles to use and ultimately strengthen their muscles for better performance.

Some of the activities you can engage them in include:

  • Playing with and kicking balls
  • Littering toys around for them to play with
  • Dancing to upbeat music
  • Pushing a light object around the house
  • Small ladder climbs
  • Making obstacles with pillows or cushions on their way for them to climb over


What motor skills do infants develop first?

At first, infants develop the ability to move the body parts closer to their limbs. For instance, they are able to move their arms first before their wrist.

Furthermore, they are able to move larger muscles like the leg before smaller ones like the toes.

Is it possible to assess motor skills in Infants?

Yes, you can access the performance of motor skills in children by engaging them in activities that involve them using their hands, wrists, legs, fingers, or toes.

At what age do gross motor skills develop?

Babies start to develop gross motor skills as early as three to four months. They start by lifting their heads, hands, and legs. As they grow older, they are able to perform tasks like crawling, standing, and picking, amongst others.

How can you help a child with poor motor skills?

First, if you notice a developmental delay or disability in a child, you should visit a pediatrician to help diagnose what the problem may be.

The child can further receive physical therapy if it is a delay in movement. Also, they may need assistive technology or occupational therapy if they have a disability in fine motor skills.


Children need motor skills so they can move and complete tasks independently. They enable us to carry heavy objects or do tasks such as playing on a keyboard, typing, sowing, etc.

They are essential skills for our everyday life. Also, they are the first set of skills that a child develops after birth, and they develop as a child grows.

Furthermore, parents should aid the development of motor skills in their children by engaging them in activities that can encourage movement.

This is because these skills are important for children to explore the world around them and to develop their speech, academics, and performance of physical activities.

In addition, parents should be sensitive to the performance of these movements and activities in their children to quickly note any disabilities or delays. As such, you will be able to take the necessary measures to help that child as early as possible.

Lastly, if you wish to learn about how to train your child better, you can check the article on early learning here.

I hope this article helped.

Thanks for reading.