What is motor development?

What’s the difference between fine and gross motor skills? Here’s what you need to know.

By Tina O'Shea

Managing Editor at LeapFrog

Tina O’Shea is LeapFrog’s Managing Editor and the voice of @LeapFrog on Twitter, but to her kids, she’s the Freeze Dance DJ.

What are motor skills? You might hear about the development of fine and gross motor skills in the pediatrician’s office, parenting magazines or a baby development book. What exactly are they? This is actually a pretty complicated question.

Gross motor skills generally refer to movements involving larger muscles, like those in the arms, legs, feet or the entire body (used for walking, jumping and so on). Fine motor skills generally refer to movements involving smaller muscles, like those in hands, wrists and fingers (such as those used for holding a crayon or toy). However, as one thinks about these two groups of skills, it is easy to see how they overlap. For instance, an infant’s hands can be used for picking up toys from the floor (fine motor) more easily when she has already learned how to sit up (gross motor). When your child is getting something off a shelf, she is using both large muscles (walking to the shelf and reaching for the item) and small muscles (grasping the toy with fingers). As you can see, plenty of complicated coordination is required to accomplish a “simple” task!