Toddler Motor Skills Development

girl smiling while lying on grass field at daytime

The term “motor skills” refers to the ability to perform complex physical acts that produce movement. The development of toddler motor skills includes both fine motor skills and gross motor skills.

Fine Motor Skills Versus Gross Motor Skills

The development of fine motor skills refers to learning how to make small movements in order to manipulate objects, and using eye-hand coordination. For example: scribbling with a pen, picking up a raisin and putting it in the mouth.

The development of gross motor skills refers to learning how to make large movements such as kicking, walking, running, and climbing.

Development of Motor Skills in Toddlers

During the infant years, the ability to control movement in relation to a stationary world has already been mastered. As children enter the toddler years, they begin to master the ability to move within a changing world. That is, they begin to modify their movements to adapt to changes in their environment, for example: bringing their hands together to catch a ball.

Toddler Motor Skills and Developmental Milestones

Below is a summary of the developmental motor skill milestones for a toddler, month by month:

  • 13 months: can grab and drop objects, three-quarters of all toddlers this age are walking
  • 14 months: can wave goodbye, roll a ball back and forwards, half of all toddlers this age can drink from a cup
  • 15 months: good at walking, likes push/pull toys
  • 16 months: enjoys scribbling on paper
  • 17 months: may be able to remove own clothes, pretend to feed a doll, brush teeth with help
  • 18-19 months: proficient at walking, climb furniture, may be able to kick a ball, dance to music, push and turn buttons and knobs
  • 20 months: may be able to run, likely to be able to kick a ball and walk up stairs
  • 21 months: rearranges furniture, mimics housework activities, uses table and chairs, may be able to dress herself, wash and dry hands with assistance
  • 22 months: plays with jigsaw puzzles
  • 23 months: may be able to copy circles and do line drawings, complete simple puzzles
  • 24 months: can sort objects
  • 25-26 months: learning to jump, can throw a ball overhand, brush teeth, wash and dry hands unassisted
  • 27-28 months: handles small objects easily, can stack blocks, pull off shoes, turn book pages, hold a cup with one hand, possibly able to balance on one foot or jump forwards with both feet together
  • 29-30 months: likely to able to dress herself and balance on one foot, may be ready to start toilet training
  • 31-36 months: can dress herself, draw a vertical line, balance on each foot, may even be able to pour own breakfast cereal, can walk or run in a straight line but cannot easily turn or stop while running

How to encourage the development of motor skills in a toddler

Motor skills in toddlers are very responsive to practice, so it is important to provide an environment which encourages the above activities. In fact, research has shown that toddlers improved physical capabilities by up to 25-30%, when given the opportunity to practice.

To enhance the development of motor skills in a toddler, try the following activities:

  • Drawing on paper using crayons or water based markers
  • Drawing with chalk on a chalkboard
  • Playing with jigsaw puzzles and stacking blocks
  • Allowing him to use his own spoon at mealtimes
  • Encouraging him to help with the housework while supervised (eg. putting clothes in the laundry basket, sweeping the floor, watering the plants)
  • Dancing to music
  • Physical activities such as climbing at the playground, running, or kicking a ball

Toddler development and achieving motor skill milestones

Keep in mind that many toddlers may achieve these motor skill milestones at an earlier or later time. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, please consult your doctor or early childhood nurse.

Sources:

Carol K. Sigelman and Elizabeth A. Rider. Life-Span Human Development. California: Wadsworth.

Dictionary.reference.com. “Motor Skills” .

J. R. Thomas, J. H. Yan, and G. E. Stelmach. “Movement Substructures Change as a Function of Practice in Children and Adults.” Journal of Experimental Psychology, 75, 228-244.

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