If you sit down to type, what’s the first thing you do? Stabilize your trunk. Next you align your posture and hold your neck and shoulders still. Only then can your wrists, hands, and fingers make the delicate, precise movements of typing. Try typing hunched forward, leaning off to one side, hanging your head, or letting your shoulders go slack. Harder, right?
Gross motor development builds the sturdy foundation we need for fine motor tasks. When you do activities that strengthen your baby’s big muscles, you’re not just supporting his movement skills; you’re setting him up for success with drawing, cutting, brushing his teeth, getting dressed, writing, and countless other fine motor tasks.
Big-muscle development is so important that if a child has trouble with writing or other fine motor tasks, occupational therapists often first look at his gross motor skills. That’s because they’re central to:
Body Stability and Postural Control
Being able to hold ourselves upright and keep certain body parts still while moving others is no easy feat! It starts in infancy with head control and develops further with each subsequent gross motor milestone. Every time you play with your little one in a way that encourages gross-motor movement, you’re preparing him to stabilize and control his big muscles so he can skillfully use his smaller ones.
Hand Strength and Development
Crawling plays a unique roll in fine motor development by strengthening the hands, lengthening the long finger muscles, developing hand arches, and separating the hand into a skill side (thumb and first two fingers) and a stabilizing side (ring finger and pinky).
School-related activities like writing and art projects are fine motor marathons! It takes endurance to keep our big muscles stable for extended periods of time. Gross motor development builds the staying power your child will need for fine motor tasks in school and beyond.
Motor planning helps us learn how to navigate our environment and perform tasks safely and efficiently.
When your child practices gross motor skills, he’s also honing his motor planning abilities. He learns, for instance, that he needs to make certain movements in a certain order to roll over, sit up, or walk around furniture without bumping into it. Crawling in particular is once again a superstar here; brain imaging shows that during crawling the area of the brain related to motor planning lights up.
A great activity for motor planning practice is setting up a mini obstacle course for your little one. You can find out how to do this in the gross motor activities section of our BabySparks program.
Simple ball games like rolling, throwing, and kicking are gross motor activities that help develop the hand-eye coordination central to learning fine-motor tasks.
The role your little one’s big muscles play in fine motor success is just one more reason to give him lots of opportunities for full-body movement.