Motor Development

Developing Motor Skills: Birth – 8 months

Motor development refers to the muscles – both large and small, in our bodies.

Gross Motor (GM) are the large muscles in our head and neck, arms and legs.

Fine Motor (FM) refers to the small muscles in your fingers, and eyes.


Children develop their muscles from top to bottom, and inner to outer. This means that babies’ muscles develop and strengthen first from the head, then torso, then legs; and from their arms and then out to their fingers.

Remember that wobbly, very heavy head when babies are first born? Gradually over the first few weeks they are more able to control their neck muscles to hold their head upright.

Children develop their muscles through opportunity to exercise them, at the appropriate time. Here’s a summary of the muscle skills they are developing, the approximate time frames for them, and how you can help them:


In the first 6 weeks they are (GM) trying to hold their head up, and will put their fist to their mouth. Their limbs have a jerky response, as they can not yet control them, and are easily startled by sudden noises and movements. FM: They may ‘track’ objects (follow them) with their eyes, but not moving the head.

You can help your baby by: Giving them opportunity for tummy time – just a few minutes, several times a day – place them facing down, hands near their shoulders with their palms down, and face turned to the side. Support your baby’s head, whenever you are holding them.


From 6 weeks to 3 ½ months, they are (GM) generally able to lift their head from side to side, when having ‘tummy time’, and use some voluntary movements such as stretching their legs. They may also bring their hands to the midline (the middle of their body). In terms of FM they unclench their fists and may use them to bat at overhead objects – eg toys hanging from a frame.

You can help your baby by: Continue tummy time with several short bursts during the day – never just after a feed, or you will have a mess to clean up! Place three colourful objects in a semi-circle in front of them, so that when they raise their head, there is something interesting to see. Or, lay baby on your chest, so that when she pushs up she sees your face to smile at. Also, lay them on their back with an overhead frame toy – where objects dangle down withing their reach, to bat at – first it will be accidental, then they will learn to deliberately strike it. Give them different toys to hold – different textures to feel.


Between 3 ½ – 5 ½ months babies learn to use their forearms to push their head and chest up (when having tummy time), and they begin to sit with support. Babies will stretch and kick their legs, and reach for objects they can see. They roll from stomach to back.

You can help your baby by: Providing tummy time, and also opportunity to sit – use pillows around them as props (supervised) or sit with your legs around them. Let them have a little bit of room to ‘sway’ as they need to practise using their core muscles to learn to balance upright – this isn’t as possible in plastic ‘chair’ supports.


By 8 months babies can often (GM) sit unsupported, and may roll or pull their bodies along using their arms (dragging their legs). They may stand, holding onto support. In terms of FM, they may transfer a toy from hand to hand, may bang two objects together and may turn the object over or around.

You can help your baby by: Lots of floor time. Ensure the floor is clean, and clear of choking hazards – any small pieces and your baby will find them!. It’s often useful to lay on the floor yourself and check out what they can see, especially under sofas. Show them how to bang objects together, and they will copy you.


Always supervise your baby whilst they play and explore.

Next week we’ll look at Motor Development from 8 months to 3 years.


Happy Parenting!

Image by mrplough via Flickr