The Importance of Motor Skill Development in Children Age 1 – 3

Beginning at birth, children start their development of motor skills: motions carried out when the brain, nervous system, and muscles work together. Children start to use their hands to explore the world around them.  The movements made with the small muscles of the hands are called “fine motor skills”. Movements that use large muscles like the arms, legs, torso, and feet are called “gross motor skills”. Honing these skills are integral to your child’s development and future independence. Self esteem is also closely linked to motor skill development. Children build self esteem as a result of successful experiences, and most successful experiences for toddlers come from different fine motor skill activities.

Grip strength and grip reflex play a large role in the development of motor skills. This reflex is important for future school activities like writing, drawing, and using scissors.

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Children build self esteem as a result of successful experiences, and most successful experiences for toddlers come from different fine motor skill activities.

Developmental Milestones and Exercises to Improve Motor Skills

By age 3 children develop the necessary strength, endurance, and coordination to enjoy playing with peers. Exercises to improve these skills can be found below, as well as on our Motor Skill Development Program page.

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Swinging with a parent is very calming and helps your child build a greater sense of connection to you.

Swing

Your child may not be ready to swing by themselves, and that’s okay. Swinging with a parent is very calming and helps your child build a greater sense of connection to you. When your child is ready to swing by themselves, learning how to pump is an excellent place to start to begin to build their coordination, balance, and spatial awareness.

Rings

Depending on the age of your child, they may not be able to support themselves on the rings. You can help support your child by holding their hands and the rings with the “bunny ear” grip. To do this, wrap your fingers around their fingers and wrists while they are holding the rings. This will take stress off of your child’s upper body.

Spinning on the rings is a good introductory activity for your child. Spinning can improve your child’s spatial awareness with minimal stress on their muscles and joints. You should set a realistic goal for your child to be able to hang independently from the rings.

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You should set a realistic goal for your child to be able to hang independently from the rings.

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Climbing the ladder is an excellent way to improve your child’s balance, coordination, and a fun way for them to boost their confidence!

Ladder

To get your toddler comfortable on the ladder, the first thing you should do is have them sit on the second highest rung of the ladder, and use it as a swing. This will help them adjust to the way the ladder moves, and strengthen their core by holding themselves up. Once they are comfortable with the way the ladder moves they will be ready to start climbing up the ladder with your assistance. You can help our child by stabilizing the bottom of the ladder with your foot as they climb to reduce the horizontal movement of the ladder. As your child climbs, you may have to break down what they are doing by telling them “hand, hand, foot, foot” as they climb up.

Rope

By the time your child turns 1 they will have already shown their involuntary grip reflex (also known as the Palmer grasp reflex). This reflex comes when an object strokes your child’s palm and they close their hand around it. The next step in development of their grip is voluntary grasping.

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Exposing your child to the rope attachment will help them develop their voluntary grasping reflex.

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As your child grows more comfortable and is able to hang by themselves, the different grip options add an extra degree of difficulty for them to master.

Trapeze

If younger children have trouble supporting their own weight when hanging on the trapeze, you can use the “bunny ear” grip to take stress off of their upper body. Swinging from the trapeze will give your toddler a sense of independence, while still supporting them. Your child can also benefit from swinging while sitting on the top of the trapeze. The trapeze has a smaller surface area, thus requiring more balance to sit upright than the swing. This will also strengthen your child’s core, as you make sure they are sitting upright and not slouched over.