What are gross motor skills and why are they important?

Gross Motor Skills is a term often used by teachers, therapists as well as other health care professionals. You may have heard it in passing, referring to another child, or maybe your child is attending therapy to improve their gross motor skills.

In whichever way you may have been exposed, there is often confusion about which specific skills relate to this term. Generally as occupational therapists, we define gross motor skills as those skills in which the whole body (or the majority of the body) is used. The specific core muscle groups are involved, and specific movements are generated.

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These movements, together incorporate activities such as running, jumping, hopping, skipping, as well as playground specific skills including climbing and navigating through a jungle gym.

Why are these skills important? This is a frequently asked question specifically from parents who have children who are currently seeing an OT. These essential gross motor skills form the basis for engagement within, believe it or not, all our daily tasks. Consider this, you wake up in the morning, and prepare to start your day. You move into the shower from your bed. Thereafter, you walk back to your room where you prepare to get dressed. Here it is essential you remain standing on one leg, to put on each leg of your pants. You continue about your day as normal, using the foundation skills you developed as a child.


From the age of 7, and even 6 within certain environments, you are expected to remain within a classroom routine for an extended period of time within a day. Here, a child is expected to sit upright at a desk, make use of a pen, or other stationary and engage in other tasks such as listening attentively to the teacher, and answering questions he or she poses. In order for a child to keep this position and use their dominant hand, as well as use the cognitive skills necessary for paying attention, a good development of core muscles is essential, all of which develops through our gross motor skills.

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How can you bring gross motor skills into your child’s daily routine? Spend a short period each day encouraging your child to engage in activities in which they should run, jump or climb! Encourage them to catch and throw a ball to each other, or play a game of soccer! Set up a short obstacle course where the child can perform different movements in different positions. By encouraging and stimulating this type of engagement, your child will want to participate in gross motor tasks on their own, stimulating furthermore independent engagement.

Words by Kate Delmont, Occupational Therapist at the Sparrow Schools Educational Trust. Kate holds a BSc from the Witswatersrand University.

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