Starfish Therapies

December 28, 2010

Gross Motor Development vs Fine Motor Development

Common questions I get when people hear about what I do is, ‘What’s the difference between fine motor and gross motor?’ or ‘What’s the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy and why do kids need occupational therapy?’.

In little kids most parents know what gross motor is because of the milestones each child hits as they develop.  I like to tell people that gross motor gets you to where you need to go and fine motor helps you to do what you need to do once you get there.  For instance if your child wanted to do a craft, they would walk to the table and sit down (gross motor) and then they would fold or cut or color the paper (fine motor).

Here is a brief description of gross motor milestones for your reference:

*0-3 months: Lifting the head up during tummy time. This movement strengthens back and neck muscles as well as ensures that your baby will be able to clear his/her face to breathe properly during tummy time. Encourage your baby to do this placing noisy toys in front of him/her during tummy time or by having him/her lie on your chest and talk or sing to them.
* 3-6 months: Propping on extended arms during tummy time. This position strengthens neck, back, shoulder and arm muscles and facilitates bone growth through weight bearing. It is an improtant precursor to crawling. You can assist your child with this by initially placing a rolled up towel or wedge under the chest for support.
* 3-6 months: Rolling is another important milestone that generally occurs during this time. This helps strengthen the entire body but most importantly the core.
* 6-9 months: Unsupported sitting. This facilitates trunk control and balance while leaving the arms free to explore and reach for objects. Also, during these months, your child should be able to accept full body weight during standing with support. Weight bearing through the legs is extremely important for bone growth and hip joint formation. Lastly, your infant should begin crawling. Crawling will increase strength and allow for increased exploration.
* 9-12 months: Pulling to stand at furniture and cruising along surfaces. Encourage your child to do this by placing fun toys up on couches or tables during play.
* 12-15 months: While some babies walk as early as 10 months, most will generally start letting go here and demonstrate independent standing and walking.
* 15-18 months: Here your child will generally master walking and may even start running!
* 18-24 months: Jumping! Jumping is great for strengthening of the leg and trunk muscles as well as improving balance. Also, your child will begin to walk up and down stairs by placing both feet on each step while holding onto a rail or your hand.
* 24-30 months: During this stage you can expect higher and bigger jumps, increased independence with stairs, ability to walk on tip toes and maybe even tricyle riding dependending on the eagerness of the child.
* 30-36 months: This stage is all about balance! Encourage your child to stand on one foot, walk in a heel to toe pattern on the ground or on a balance beam, jump over objects, and alternate feet while climbing stairs. This way they can run around the playground with other kids without you having to worry about any major falls or collisions.

*3-4 years:  Kids at this age continue to advance their proficiency with earlier learned skills as well as develop some new ones.  They can go down stairs alternating feet, gallop, ride tricycles, hop, begin jump roping, enhance their ball skills for kicking, throwing and catching and balance on one foot for short periods.

* 5 years:  Kids during this year will begin to run more like an adult with long strides, trunk rotation and arm swing.  They will also get good at walking on their tip toes, jumping rope, walking on balance beams and begin to use skates.

Here is a brief description of fine motor milestones for your reference:

2-4 months

Hands remain closed most of the time
Grasp reflex is seen (baby will grasp an object involuntarily when it is placed in their hand)
Can play with their hands

Reaches for objects, but inaccurately

Clasps hands together at midline often
Reaching is more purposeful and guided by use of visual

3-7 months

Is able to hold small objects in their hand

4-8 months

Can transfer objects from one hand to another
Medium sized objects are easily picked up (such as cubes)
Sometimes mouths objects
Pulls objects out of containers

4-10 months

Forward and side reach are more accurate
Rakes/scoops small objects when picking them up, such as raisins and cheerios

7-9 months

Performs drop/release of objects intentionally
Can place objects in container

7-12 months

Picks up small objects using thumb and finger/fingers
Pokes and or points with index finger

12-18 months

Holds crayon with whole hand, thumb up

2 years

Holds crayon with thumb and all fingers (thumb down)
Puts on shoes and socks
Takes off socks and shoes
Independent with the use of a spoon
Can draw and copy a vertical line
Can stack large objects

2 ½-3 years

Strings large beads
Snips paper with scissors
Rolls clay/playdough into a “snake”
Can draw and copy horizontal line
Can throw ball

3-3 ½ years

Completes simple puzzles
Builds a 9 block tower
Can dress and undress independently
Needs help with buttons and still confuses front and back for clothes and left and right for shoes
Drinks from a cup with 1 hand
Feeds self with little or no spilling

3 ½- 4 years

Pours their own drink
Strings small beads
Places pegs in holes
Tripod grasp with pencil but no forearm or wrist stabilization

4-4 ½ year

Can cut curved and straight lines
Can complete buttons, zippers and snaps
Draws and copies a cross

4 ½-5 years

Holds fork using fingers
Feeds self soup with little or no spilling
Folds paper in half with edges meeting
Puts key in a lock and can open it

5 years

Dresses independently and usually ties laces
Cuts a square, triangle, circle, and simple pictures
Uses a knife to spread food items
Uses a dull knife to cut soft foods
Draws and copies diagonal line
Tripod grasp with pencil and uses fingers only

5 ½-6 years

Good bilateral use of hands to cut complex pictures and be accurate
Copies sequence of letters and numbers correctly
Colors between lines

6 years

Completes complex puzzles
Is independent with writing, dressing, and feeding
Hopefully these lists give you an idea of your child’s gross and fine motor development.  You can help your child enhance these skills by playing with them both inside and outside!  Please let me know if you are looking for play ideas!


  1. This is extremely valuable information. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Comment by Michael G. — December 28, 2010 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

  2. […] 7.  Gross Motor Development vs. Fine Motor Development […]

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