Children’s Motor Milestones: Important Steps in Development

by Amanda DiGangi | Leave a Comment

As a physical therapist that works with children, I educate my patient’s family and caregivers on the importance of each and every motor milestone relevant to the child’s age. Often, each milestone assists in the development of the following milestone.1 For example, before a child can crawl on hands and knees, they often develop the skill of moving forward in an army crawl position.

Children’s Motor Milestones: Important Steps in DevelopmentPhysical therapists use a variety of different objective tests and measures to help them decide if the patient is developing his/her motor skills appropriately. If a patient is not developing these motor skills as expected on these tests, the child may have developmental delay.2 Developmental delay is an umbrella term used to describe behavior of children who are not moving, talking or playing as expected compared to other children their age.2

Some of the developmental motor milestones that are tested for in infants by a physical therapist are listed below (in no particular order):

  • Bringing their hands together in midline while laying on their back
  • Bringing their hands to mouth
  • Reaching for and playing with their feet
  • Lifting head when laying on belly
  • Pushing up onto arms when laying on stomach
  • Sitting without assistance, using arms to support themselves
  • Rolling from back to side, side to belly, and belly to back
  • Reaching for toys while on belly

This is typically where a physical therapist will start the evaluation if the child is under six months. If the therapist finds different areas of limitation, the treatment sessions will be focused on facilitating the child’s development of those motor milestones through practice and assistance.

Physical therapists can also work with school aged children that may have developmental delays. Some of the developmental motor milestones that are tested for in this group include: (in no particular order):

  • Jumping forward
  • Jumping down from a height
  • Running form
  • Kicking form
  • Catching a ball
  • Throwing at a target
  • Dribbling a ball
  • Jumping jack form
  • Skipping form

The Importance of Motor Development

Early motor development is important for a variety of reasons. In fact, it has been found that children with higher proficiency in certain later childhood tasks/skills such as kicking, catching, throwing, hopping and galloping were associated with greater physical activity later in life.1 It makes sense that if we are good at moving around our environment, we may be more inclined to do just that.

If deemed necessary by a pediatrician, physical therapists can help screen for and prevent issues with motor development. If you are concerned with your child’s motor development, it is important to consult your pediatrician to discuss next steps.

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1 Barnett LM, Van Beurden E, Morgan PJ, Brooks LO, Beard JR. Childhood motor skill proficiency as a predictor of adolescent physical activity. J Adolesc Health. 2009;44(3):252–9.

2 Regina Harbourne, PT, PhD, PCS, and Sandra Willett, PT, PCS. “Physical Therapist Guide to Developmental Delay.” MoveForwardPT.com American Physical Therapy Association. Access Date: 6/5/17 <http://www.moveforwardpt.com/symptomsconditionsdetail.aspx?cid=0cb9916b-6b09-44ab-8708-cfc52eb351f5>.

(Motor milestones based on my experiences with various objective measures such as the PDMS-2, AIMS, and BOT-2)

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