Toddler gross motor skills

What a toddler of 18-36 months should be able to do

By 18 months most toddlers have acquired the fundamental gross motor abilities at a basic level of control. Over time, and with practice, in typically developing toddlers, the skill level improves dramatically. 

Toddlers with movement difficulties (developmental coordination disorder, low muscle tone, joint hypermobility, autism) may need help acquiring and improving theses skills. 

Here I provide a list of all the basic motor skills, sometimes referred to as fundamental motor patterns, that toddlers should acquire between 18 months and 3 years of age. 

For therapists
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Sitting on a chair or stool

Sitting on a stool and playing at a table

  • Sits erect on a small stool or chair. 
  • Stays erect when using the hands in front of the body. 
  • Sits at a table to draw or play for 10-15 minutes. 

Toddler sitting erect on a chair building a marble run.


Able to reach for toys in all directions

  • Reaches forwards, to the right and the left.
  • Can reach across the body.

Toddler reaching across the midline


Can reach up with both arms and maintain balance 

  • Can lift both arms together when building towers and moving large objects. 

Toddler with good core stability reaching up above the head


Reaches across body

  • Still moves the head, trunk and arms as a unit when reaching across the body. 
  • The trunk twists as the arm reaches across the body to the other side. 

Toddler with good core stability reaching forwards in sitting


Sitting on the floor 

Sits comfortably with legs in front of the body

Ring or cross legged sitting.

Toddler sitting erect (core stability)  throwing a ball


Twists and reaches forwards and to both sides

Twisting and reaching when sitting on the floor is important for developing good flexibility in the hips and trunk. 

Toddler sitting reaching across midline


Sits up from lying by pushing up on one arm 

  • Sits up quickly and easily. 
  • Legs lift up as toddlers lifts up head and trunk.

Sitting-up-over-one-arm.jpg


Lies down from sitting on the floor

  • Leans back and lies down, without needing to support on arm.
  • Movement is controlled - and neck is flexed until the very end of the movement. 
  • The ability to control the head when lying back is important because it stops the toddler's head from hitting the floor when he/she looses her balance and falls backwards. 

lying-back-from-sitting.jpg


Stands up from sitting

  • Movement is quick and easy, child uses momentum.
  • Pushes briefly on one or both hands. 

stand-up-from-sitting_1.jpg


Standing balance and stability

Stands easily and independently with feet hip width apart

Can look to the side and behind.  This action requires good standing balance as the legs and feet have to adapt to the twisting action of the head and trunk. 

 

Toddler standing balance


Reaches down to pick up toys from the floor  

  • This requires good leg muscle strength to support the body weight as the legs bend in a controlled manner. 
  • This action also requires good balance: the buttocks must shift backwards as the trunk tips forwards. 

Toddler bend forwards to reach ground in a half squat


Can stand, hold and maneuver a large object 

  • Lifting and moving large and heavy objects challenges trunk stability and balance. 

pour-water-from-big-bottle_1.jpg   T 2 y watering can_1.jpg


Can lift a ball and throw it from above the head 

  • Maintains balance, may take a small step. 
  • This actions requires good muscle strength (legs, arms, trunk) as well as very good balance control. 

2y 11m lifting ball to throw.jpg


Stands on a raised surface with confidence

Low stool, bathroom step, low plank bridge.

  • Standing on a high surface is important for developing tolerance of heights and balance when standing on a raised surface. 
  • Toddlers also need to learn to judge whether they can step down from different heights. 

T 2y 1m standing on block_1.jpg  


Walking 

Walks on an even surface with confidence

  • Does not fall or trip easily.
  • Looks ahead, avoids obstacles, notices changes in surface, slope.

Walks across an uneven surface

Out of doors, on grass, on an uneven path.

  • Looks ahead to plan steps.  
  • Foot placement is adapted to suit the irregular surface. 
  • Ankle muscles must work to stabilize the foot.
  • Falls occasionally, but not regularly. 

walk-pebbles.jpg


Walks on a soft surface

Can walk across a mattress, over pillows large sofa cushions laid on the floor.

2y 6m walking on soft surface.jpg


Walks up and down a 15-200 slope with confidence 

  • This requires good balance, especially walking downhill.  
  • Step size needs to be adjusted and the trunk needs to be slightly inclined to keep it balanced over the feet. 

walk-down-slope.jpg


Walks on a 20-30 cm wide raised plank with confidence

Walking on a raised surface challenges the toddlers balance, because the drop-off on ether side changes the visual information the toddler uses for maintaining balance. 

Walk-on-raised-plank.jpg


Walks carrying large or heavy objects

  • Carrying large and heavy objects challenges a toddler's balance, trunk muscle strength and stability, as well arm and leg strength.
  • It also requires careful use of visual information for planning actions. 

T aged 22m playing boxes_1.jpg


Stepping up and over 

Steps over a small obstacles laid end-to-end.  

Early walkers will usually first stop in front of the obstacles before stepping over. 

Step-over_1.jpg

With practice and walking experience, toddlers learn to walk or run and step over any small obstacles in their without first stopping.
 

T 2y 7m stepping over obstacle 1.jpg


Steps up onto a 10-20 cm high step
  • May initially need hand support. 
  • After some practice can step up without hand support.  

2y 1m step up 10 cm 5.jpg


Steps down from a 10-20 cm high step

Initially with hand support, with practice with no hand support (by 3 years of age).

T 2y 1m step down 30 cm 3.jpg


Walks up stairs holding the stair rail or an adult hand  

  • Walks up one step at a time - ie one foot on the next step, back foot follows and is put down on the same step. 
  • By age 3 years a toddler who regularly walks up stairs should be able to walk up without holding onto the rail. 
  • It takes a little longer before a young child can go up stairs moving the bottom foot up passed the front foot onto the next step. 

stairs.jpg


Walks down stairs holding the stair rail or an adult hand

Walking down is more tricky than walking up stairs. 

Stepping down requires good coordination of the action of the hip, knee and ankle muscles. 

In addition, the trunk needs to be slightly inclined to keep it balanced over a changing support base. 


Steps over a gap between low steps

(by 3 years)

2y 11m steeping across gap.jpg


Standing up, sitting down and squatting 

Can stand up from a 10-15 cm high step 

  • Does not push up on arms 
  • Can stand up and sit down several times in a row with good control. 

Standing-up-from-low-step_1.jpg


Can squat down and stand up again
  • With good control - movement is graded 
  • Can also hold in-between positions 

will 18 m squat to stand 1.jpg   will 18 m squat to stand 2.jpg


Stands up from sitting on floor easily and quickly

  • Pushes briefly on the hands as he gets up. 
  • Can also sit down on the floor from standing with good control.

2y 11m stand from floor.jpg


Running 

Runs easily on an even surface 

  • Has fairly good balance on even ground.
  • May get a speed wobble when stopping or changing direction suddenly. 
  • Can run and stop suddenly and also change direction suddenly without falling over. 

T 2y 7m running 3.jpg


Runs on uneven ground

More likely to fall running on uneven ground and especially running downhill. 

When falling the hands are used to break the fall

Does not bang head when trips and falls forwards. 

falling.jpg


Climbing and clambering 

Clambers up onto a couch, bed or chair

Is able pull self up by pushing or pulling with the arms. 

clambering 1.jpg


Climbs onto a dining room chair and turns around to sit 

This requires good planning abilities and coordination between trunk and limbs. 

2y 11m climb chair_2.jpg


Climbs up onto a low table or dinning room chair and stands up

climbing onto box.jpg   jumping fown from box 1.jpg


Climbs onto the lowest rungs of the jungle gym

The ability to climb on a jungle gym with confidence takes practice. A child's abilities will depend on experience. 

toddler 2y 9m climbing frame.jpg


Slides down a small slide with confidence

  • Climbs the ladder of a small slide. 
  • Gets to the top of a slide and sits down ready to slide down. 

on slide.jpg


Jumping

Jumps up off two feet 

By the age of 2-3 years a toddler should be able to jump up off two feet and then land on two feet  again. 

jump-off-two-feet_1.jpg

Jumping up off two feet has two stages: bending the knees  to prepare for jumping, then rapidly extending the legs and taking off. 

Sometime after the second birthday one sees toddlers getting ready for a jump by bending the legs and then working hard at developing the coordinated between the hip, knee and ankle muscles needed for launching the body into space. 

Ready-to-jump.jpg    


Jumps over a low obstacle with two foot take off (by 3 years)

jump over a low obstacle_1.jpg


Jumps down from a 20-30 cm high step 
 

jump down cube 2_1.jpg   jump down cube 1.jpg


Runs and jumps/leaps over a low obstacle

One foot take-off  (by 3 years) 

T 2y 7m stepping over obstacle 1.jpg


Ball skills 

Catches a soccer sized ball with two hands

  • Holds arms ready to catch.
  • Catches ball on forearms and then bends arms and secures ball against chest. 

2y catch scoop ball.jpg


Throws a soccer sized ball with two hands

Still has poor control of direction

Toodler-skittlles-throw-2.jpg


Kicks a soccer sized ball 

Control of the direction is poor. 

T 3y 2m kicking ball 5.jpg


Intercepts a rolled ball

Watches the direction of the rolling ball and moves towards it to stop it with two hands. 

Watches direction of rolled ball and moves to a position where the ball can be stopped using the hands. 

This important skills trains visual attention, predicting the direction of the ball and moving to the right place at the right time. All these skills are needed for catching a ball. 

2y 11m catching rolled ball.jpg


Lets Get Moving Games

GAMES for improving toddler's strength, coordination and balance

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