What are gross motor skills?

Gross motor skills such as walking, sitting, jumping, and running use our big muscle groups and are whole body movements. They are important because they allow us to engage in everyday activities such as dressing (standing on one leg to pull our trousers on) eating (sitting at a table and coordinating use of cutlery) toileting (balancing on a toilet) and playing (riding a bike, climbing).

From as young as a few months old babies start to develop these skills during ‘tummy time’.

Skills needed for toilet transfers

Learning to transfer onto the toilet is the first step to developing independent toileting and it can be a demanding skill to master, as the below list which forms part of an occupational therapist’s activity analysis demonstrates, it takes a lot:

  • Core stability
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Strength
  • Motor planning
  • Postural control
  • Bilateral integration (coordinating both sides of the body together)
  • Body awareness
  • Muscle tone
  • Crossing the midline (using arms to cross the imaginary line that divides left and right)

Children with gross motor difficulties are likely to appear clumsy and uncoordinated, and often tire quickly as they will be working very hard to complete a physical activity.

When sitting on the toilet, they may be unbalanced and lean to one side, feeling unsafe or think they are about to fall. Transferring on and off the toilet might be a frightening experience for them, leading to confidence issues and a refusal to use the toilet. All hindering their ability to develop independent toileting skills.

Strategies to develop gross motor skills

By developing a child’s gross motor skills through play, their ability to carry out sit to stand transfers will be improved whilst also having fun. These are all simple ideas to try at home.

Obstacle courses

Obstacle courses are a great way of working on the whole body, they can develop- balance, bilateral coordination, motor planning, core stability and muscle tone to name a few.

Keep the obstacle course simple initially and increase the complexity as the child gains confidence.

Ideas for an obstacle course:

  • Steppingstones with cushions or coloured paper
  • Crawling under a table or a row of lined up chairs
  • Use masking tape to create a line to balance on
  • Commando crawling under a blanket
  • Throwing bean bags, balls, or even cuddly toys into a laundry basket
  • Skipping
  • Hopscotch


Games such as floor is lava, musical statues, twister, popping bubbles and balloon volleyball all help develop muscle tone, core strength, coordination, and bilateral integration. Twister is particularly good for developing postural control, balance, crossing the midline and stamina.

‘Simon says’ and ‘follow the leader’ are great games for developing body awareness and motor planning skills, the complexity of the instructions can be increased as the child’s ability and confidence grow.


Star jumps, sit ups, plank, animal walks and wheelbarrow walks are whole body exercises so develop all over gross motor skills.

Playgrounds are a good place for a child to build on their gross motor skills as climbing, running, and swinging will use their whole body.


Organised sports such as karate, gymnastics, football, swimming, yoga and ballet are also whole-body activities and can develop a child’s gross motor skills.


Helping out around the house doing heavy activities such as carrying the shopping bags, unloading the washing machine, hoovering, and digging will also help to develop a child’s gross motor skills.

It is important to remember that whenever a child engages in play, they are instinctively developing their gross motor skills. So, encourage play and adventure- the beach, woods and parks are all great places to get a workout!