Gross motor development

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Original Author(s): Dr Louise Ingram and Hannah Murray
Last updated: 19th July 2018
Revisions: 14

Original Author(s): Dr Louise Ingram and Hannah Murray
Last updated: 19th July 2018
Revisions: 14

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Child development is the process by which the dependent infant matures into the independent adult, functioning within society. It is a complex interweaving of biology, psychology and environment where each skill builds on the ones that have come before and provides a foundation for those skills yet to develop.

Development in humans follows a predictable pattern and a rough schedule but no individual develops in exactly the same manner as any other. It follows an orderly pattern (unlike almost everything else regarding children); from top to bottom, central to outer and simple to complex. What is important, when considering normal development, is progress and parity; that children are moving forward in the different areas of development at roughly the same rate.

Disparity in progress between areas of the body (e.g. the right side and the left or the lower limbs and the upper limbs) or between domains of development (see below) is concerning, as is regression (i.e. loss of previously attained skills).

This article will outline the typical stages of development that children go through. The features typically seen at each age are described below.

Gross motor development

Gross motor development refers to the abilities required for big movements and activities, such as sitting, standing, walking, running and climbing stairs.

Age Feature
1 month Symmetrical movements in all limbs

Normal muscle tone

Head lag when pulled up

3 months Almost no head lag when pulled to sit

Lifts head and chest when prone

6 months Rolls from back to front

When held, stands and sits with a straight back

Bears most of own weight

9 months Sits without support

Stands holding onto furniture

Moves around the floor, e.g. wriggling, commando crawling

12 months Stands without support

Crawls, bottom shuffles or ‘bear-walks’

Cruises along furniture

May walk unsteadily

15 months Generally walks without support

Crawls upstairs

18 months Walks steadily, stopping safely

Squats to pick up a toy

Climbs stairs holding a hand or a rail

24 months (2 years) Runs safely

Throws a ball overhand

Walks up and down stairs, both feet on each step

30 months Jumps on 2 feet

Kicks a ball

36 months (3 years) Walks backwards and sideways

Rides a tricycle

Catches a large ball with arms outstretched

48 months (4 years) Stands, walks and runs on tiptoes

Runs up and down stairs

5 years old Hops

Catches a ball

Heel-toe walking

May ride a bike


(1) Kapoor, Barnes, “Developmental Assessment”, Paediatrics, Edition 4, 2013
(2) Lissauer, W. Carroll, “Normal Child Development, Hearing and Vision”, Illustrated Textbook of Paediatrics, Edition 5, 2017
(3) Sheridan, M. D., From birth to five years; children’s developmental progress, 3rd edition revised and updated by A. Sharma and H. Cockerill, Routledge 2007
(6) Meggitt, C., Child development, an illustrated guide, 2nd edition, Heinemann 2006




1st Author: Trainee doctor Hannah Murray

Senior review: Dr Louise Ingram (Paediatric specialist registrar)