How can you tell if my child has problems with gross motor skills?

If a child has difficulties with gross motor skills they might:

Be late in reaching developmental milestones (i.e. sit, crawl, walk, run and hop).
Move stiffly and lacks fluid body movement or alternatively looks awkward and appears clumsy.
Avoid physical activity.
Participate in physical activity for only short periods (have low endurance).
Cannot maintain an upright posture when sitting on a mat or at a table top.
Be unable to perform the same skills as their peers (e.g. catch, kick, hop and jump).
Appear less skillful than their peers in sports.
Be unable to follow multiple step instructions to complete a physical task (e.g. obstacle course).
Be unable to plan and correctly sequence events or steps in a process (e.g. step forward before throwing).
Fail to perform movements safely (e.g. climbing).
Need to put in more effort than their peers to complete a task.
Tire frequently with physical activity.
Lose previously mastered skill if they do not keep practicing them.
Be unable to ‘generalise’ or transfer a skill (use the same skill in a different setting/way) (e.g. can easily change between throwing a big/heavy ball to a light/small ball).

What other problems can occur when a child has gross motor difficulties?

If a child has gross motor difficulties, they might also have difficulties with:

Drawing and pencil skills lacking in a skillful outcome.
Writing and drawing for long periods of time.
Activities of Daily Living (dressing independently, holding and using cutlery).
Maintaining posture while sitting on the floor or at a table.
Low energy levels.
Seem tired or lethargic and take longer to respond to stimuli around them.
Sensory processing (responding appropriately to the environment).
Chewing and swallowing food.
Dribbling inappropriately.
Demonstrate poor articulation of sounds.
Difficulties with manipulation of small toys and utensils.

Why are gross motor skills important?

Gross motor skills are important to enable children to perform every day functions, such as walking, running, skipping, as well as playground skills (e.g. climbing) and sporting skills (e.g. catching, throwing and hitting a ball with a bat). These are crucial for everyday self care skills like dressing (where you need to be able to stand on one leg to put your leg into a pant leg without falling over).

Gross motor abilities also have an influence on other everyday functions. For example, a child’s ability to maintain table top posture (upper body support) will affect their ability to participate in fine motor skills (e.g. writing, drawing and cutting) and sitting upright to attend to class instruction, which then impacts on their academic learning. Gross motor skills impact on your endurance to cope with a full day of school (siting upright at a desk, moving between classrooms, carrying your heavy school bag).



Physical therapy is a profession that specializes in the evaluation and treatment of diagnoses that limit physical function. Physical therapy might be needed any time a problem with a child’s movement is limiting his/her ability to perform daily activities.  

Physical Therapy

What activities can help improve gross motor skills?

  • Hop Scotch for hopping, or other games that encourage direct task/skill practice.
  • Simon Says for body awareness and movement planning (praxis).
  • Wheelbarrow walking races for upper body strength and postural or trunk control.
  • Unstable surfaces: Walking/climbing over unstable surfaces (e.g. large pillows) as it requires a lot of effort and increases overall body strength.
  • Catching and balancing: Standing with one foot on a ball while catching another ball (encourages balance while practicing catching and throwing).
  • Large balls: Begin catching with a large ball/balloon and only after the skill is mastered, move to a smaller sized ball.
  • Obstacle courses: to combine lots of gross motor skills together into one practice.
  • Playground climbing and swinging.
  • Swimming