Gross motor development involves the group of large muscles that control the head, shoulders, arms, back, abdomen and feet. The ability to control our muscles is behind every movement we make. Both gross motor skills and fine motor skills are what enable us as adults, as well as children, to be physically active and control our bodies. Gross motor skills are larger movements your baby makes with their arms, legs, feet, or entire body. So crawling, running, and jumping are gross motor skills. As your baby grows, gross motor development occurs naturally, but its progress is also a function of practise and repetitive exercise. Your baby's environment is the catalyst in this natural process. This means, that providing your baby with the stimulation of appropriate play and activities will help gross motor development progress on its natural path, in sync with your baby's individual needs. Gross motor development is a delicate combination of the brain, the nervous system, and their muscles. In the first three years of life, a child's gross motor development is quite spectacular. Infants progress rapidly from being completely dependent on movements governed by a range of involuntary reflexes. By the age of three, they are active and independent, having gained control over their bodies, and are able to run, jump, throw and kick a ball, etc. The muscles involved in gross motor development enable babies to perform many activities, such as raising their heads, rolling over, crawling, sitting up and walking. Development of these muscles begins in the first weeks of life with the neck and the ability to raise the head. It is important to note that gross motor development occurs in a set pattern. Each stage is a precursor to the next. For example, your baby will only be able to begin to sit once they can raise their head and chest off the ground and have enough strength in their arms to support their weight. The progress and direction of this development is from the neck muscles down, from the centre of the body outward, and eventually in coordination with the entire body Infant development starts at their head, and then moves down their body - a newborn baby can control their mouth, face, lips, and tongue, with the rest following in time. Your baby will then learn to control their neck before their shoulders and their shoulders before their back; will control their arms before their hands and control their hands before their fingers. In any area of your baby's body, their gross motor skills develop before their fine motor skills. This means that they will be able to bring their arms together before they learn how to pass a toy from hand to hand. Natural motivation and curiosity are the underlying factors of this phased development, but appropriate environment, play and exercise enhances the process, and development progresses at a pace that is determined by a complex combination of maturity and practise. A mature baby's gross motor skills will not develop at a healthy pace if they are not given the proper environment and stimulation. Conversely, a baby who is not yet mature enough, will not progress to the next step, no matter how many opportunities we give them to practise crawling on the floor.
The replacement of your baby’s infant reflexes in combination with the maturation of their vestibular (balance system) is key to their gross motor development. For small babies, tummy time exercises are especially beneficial for this. Tummy time helps babies strengthen their necks, back, and shoulder muscles which are required to meet infant developmental milestones such as holding the head up, rolling, sitting, and crawling.