Early Learning Foundational Skills: Motor Development

Motor Development Overview

4 Children Playing with a ball
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Children develop their physical abilities, or motor development, at a fast pace. This development is especially noticeable between the ages of three and five. Motor development breaks down further to include two areas of focus known as fine motor and gross motor skills.

Adults should encourage and promote this physical development by providing safe and appropriate physical activities for children. Research shows that children who participate in regular physical activity will have overall better health and confidence in their bodies and will understand what their bodies can do. To promote development, children must have the opportunity to practice skills daily. In particular, young children build motor skills through active play.

The areas of focus for motor development you will find in this section are (Click on each area for specific information and resources.):

  • Grip and Manipulation (ages 3-7+) which includes fine motor skills related to small hand and finger muscles, commonly referred to as one’s dexterity.
  • Balance and Coordination (ages 3-7+) which includes gross motor skills related to use of large muscles, like the torso, arms, and legs.
  • Self-Help Skills (3-7+) which include fine and gross motor skills that support and encourage independence among growing children. 

In each section, you will find motor development skills and behaviors you might see your child demonstrate and ideas that may help your child become stronger and more independent. All children develop at different rates so there is no exact spot that will define the learning of your child. Your interactions and support will help your child grow and improve no matter where they are along the path of motor development.


Motor development:  The physical growth and strengthening of a child's bones, muscles, and ability to move and touch his/her surroundings.

Fine motor skills:  The ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists.

Gross motor skills:  The ability to make movements using the large muscles in our arms, legs, and torso.

Dexterity:  The ability to perform tasks with our hands.

Additional Resources

In addition to the ideas shared for each area of focus, here are some general resources to support motor development:

CDC’s Developmental Milestones

Motor Developmental Milestones

Kid Sense - Child Development Charts & Checklists