Developing Motor Skills from Birth

Encourage activity to reach motor skill milestones.

One of the most exciting aspects of parenthood is watching your baby achieve various milestones. It is so fun to watch your little bundle of joy roll over, crawl, or stand up for the very first time. 

Caregivers can have a huge effect on motor development when they provide movement opportunities and a stimulating environment. Babies begin to learn hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and develop muscle—all in their first year of life. 

Create an Environment for Developing Motor Skills

Parents can promote movement skills by dedicating time for structured and unstructured physical activity. Reaching and grasping for objects and manipulating beads on a necklace will improve fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. When babies are in an environment where they wiggle and move around a lot, they will develop muscle coordination.

Have fun with your two- to three-month-old baby and gently move her foot in a kicking motion or guide her arm in a throwing motion. Before she is able to sit up, gently guide her little body to show her how to roll from back to side (or vice versa). Eventually, she will try all of these movements on her own.

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If you are wondering how much time your infant should engage in some sort of physical activity, the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) offers some guidelines. Parents and caregivers should engage with and encourage their zero to twelve month old babies to explore movement for short periods several times each day.

You can do this with play mats where babies bat or kick hanging toys with their hands and feet, by giving them space to squirm on the floor, or by simply giving them opportunities to wiggle their arms and legs. In the early months, supervised tummy time is crucial for the development of head, neck, and upper body muscles—all of which are needed for rolling over, crawling, and playing. Many infants also enjoy grabbing onto linking rings or playing with soft books and teething toys.

It takes about four to six months before infants have control over their muscles, at which point they grow large muscles by grabbing toys, raising their head, and pushing off the floor. They progress to crawling and then start to develop leg muscle control when they are closer to a year old. As kids transition into toddlerhood at around age one, they begin to walk. Soon thereafter, they start to develop the ability to throw, run, hop, and jump.

Average Age Various Motor Skill Milestones are Achieved

  • Squeeze your finger when you place your finger against baby’s hand – from birth
  • Hold their head up – 6 weeks
  • Lift up with their arms when laying down – 2 months
  • Grab objects – 3 months
  • Roll over – 4 months
  • Transfer objects from hand to hand – 6 months
  • Develop the ability to sit up – 7 months
  • Crawl – 7 months
  • Pull to stand up – 8 months
  • Play pat-a-cake – 10 months
  • Pinch objects with their thumb and index finger – 10 months
  • Stand and take their first steps – 11 months
  • Build a tower of two objects – 12 months

Of course, each baby will develop motor skills at varying ages, sometimes a few weeks before the average age indicated above and sometimes a couple of months after. The key is to actively engage with your newborn on a daily basis, provide safe toys, and child-proof all rooms. 

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By providing numerous movement opportunities and plenty of visual stimulation with mobiles and colorful toys, you will help your little one develop motor skills early in life. 


Jeff & Annie Wiesman

Jeff & Annie Wiesman

Dr. Jeff & Annie Wiesman are coauthors of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” Jeff is an associate professor of education who mentors future elementary school teachers, and Annie has numerous years of experience teaching preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. They reside in New York with their five-year-old daughter.

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