How your child moves

How your baby moves involves actions that involve the movement of muscles in their body. These are known as motor skills.

Gross motor skills are larger movements your baby makes with his arms, legs, feet, or his entire body. Crawling, running, and jumping are gross motor skills.

Fine motor skills are smaller actions. When your baby picks things up between his finger and thumb, or wriggles his toes in the sand, he’s using his fine motor skills. But it’s not just about fingers and toes; when your baby uses his lips and tongue to taste and feel objects he’s using fine motor skills, too.

When your baby is first born, their brain is not mature enough to control skilled movement. Development starts from their head and then moves down their body. Your baby can first control his mouth, face, lips and tongue, with the rest following over time.

In any area of your baby’s body, their gross motor skills develop before their fine motor skills and you can start doing activities with your baby from birth to encourage these skills to develop.

Your baby's favourite playmate is you – so try to spend time playing with your baby every day. 

Gross motor skills are the large movements your child makes with their arms, legs, feet, or entire body. Crawling, running and jumping are all examples of gross motor skills.

Gross motor skills can be challenging for many children for a number of reasons:

  • Lack of experience or practice.
  • Difficulty using two sides of the body together (bilateral integration).
  • Reduced balance caused by poor core stability
  • Difficulty planning and organising themselves to follow instructions
  • Poor spatial (space) awareness skills

In many cases, supporting a child on a regular basis to practice gross motor activities should encourage their skills to improve.


  • Regular practice (five to ten minutes each day) will help your child improve their skills.
  • Encourage your child by providing praise and encouragement for their efforts and success.
  • Start easy and gradually make tasks more difficult for example, if your child is having difficulty with knowing where parts of his/her body are knowing left and right, start by doing activities which focus on body parts. Once this is known, start introducing left and right.
  • to make it fun!

Our fine motor skills are how we move our small muscles and are needed to complete a number of activities, such as writing, cutting with scissors, dressing, brushing our teeth and hair and feeding ourselves.

Some fine motor skills to keep an eye out for are: 

Palmer Grasp and Release

The palmar grasp and release is one of the first stages of a child’s development and is a building block for all other fine motor skills. This enables your child to grab an object or toy.

To help them develop, try:

  • Squeezing water from sponges at bath time
  • Squeezing play dough
  • Scrunching up paper into balls
  • Throwing objects

Continue developing this grip with activities such as the below, making sure activities are age-appropriate for your child:

  • Pushing / pulling toys
  • Row, row, row your boat
  • Tipping water from a beaker or pouring it from one container into another

Pincer Grip

Your child will also develop a pincer grip. This is a more precise grip and means they use their index finger and thumb to pick up, hold and release an object. To start with, your child will use their thumb and the side of their index finger. It’s important to help them develop this grip as it’s used for holding a pencil or scissors, handwriting, and functions like doing up buttons, zips and shoelaces.

Activities you can try to help them develop and refine the pincer grip include:

  • Threading beads
  • Pulling toys using a string
  • Picking up small objects - rice, beads, marbles, raisins and lentils - between the thumb and index finger and placing them into containers
  • Turning pages in a book
  • Making paper chains
  • Making pipe cleaners into shapes, objects or animals
  • Popping bubble wrap

Finger Isolation

Your child will also develop the ability to point with one finger at a time. This ability will help them further develop their pincer grip and pencil grip and is important for handwriting, using scissors, doing up buttons, zips and laces and using a knife and fork.

Activities you can try to help promote finger isolation include:

  • Drawing in a sand tray or shaving foam with a finger (please be aware of skin conditions such as eczema that may be irritated by this activity)
  • Flicking a ping pong ball or cotton wool ball using fingers
  • Playing with finger puppets
  • Finger rhymes, e.g. “Round and round the garden like a teddy bear” or “Incey Wincey Spider”
  • Pressing beads or poking holes into playdough using each finger in turn
  • Dialling the numbers of a toy telephone

  • Lay your baby down on their back so they can kick their legs.
  • Pulling, pushing, grasping and playing with other people are great ways to practise different kinds of movements.
  • Once your baby has started crawling, let them crawl around the floor, but make sure it's safe first – see our crawling safety checklist.
  • Playing outdoors helps your baby learn about their surroundings.
  • You can take your baby swimming from a very young age – there's no need to wait until they've been vaccinated.

See Start4Life for more activity tips for babies.

It's important that your baby does not spend too much time in:

  • baby walkers or bouncers – these encourage babies to stand on their tiptoes and can delay walking if your baby uses them a lot
  • baby carriers and seats – long periods in reclining carriers or seats, or seats that prop your baby in a sitting position, can delay your baby's ability to sit up on their own

If you do use a baby walker, bouncer or seat, it's best to use them for no more than 20 minutes at a time.

All babies and children develop at their own pace and the age at which they reach different milestones can vary from child to child. If you are at all concerned about your baby’s development then please call your health visitor or the Hillingdon Children’s Integrated Therapy Service (CITS).