This page* offers parenting tips and information condensed from the book
by Dr. Brenda Hussey-Gardner ©1992-2003

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Motor Development
[ One-Year-Olds | Two-Year-Olds | Three-Year-Olds ]
Arranging the Environment | Providing Experiences ]

Understanding Motor Development

Watching me take my first step from the sofa to your outstretched arms is something that you will probably always remember and talk about. Likewise, a special time is watching me draw my first picture of you--the almost perfect circle for your head, the two dots for your eyes, and the crooked line for your mouth. Many of my other motor skills will emerge between that first step at around twelve months of age and the portrait at three and a half years. You can foster my motor development in three ways. First, understand my temperament and the progression of motor development so you can pick activities that encourage rather than frustrate me. Second, arrange my outdoor and indoor environment to encourage motor skills. Third, provide me with a variety of motor experiences.

As my parent, you can better foster my motor development when you key into my temperament and when you know what skills are appropriate for my age. Temperament plays a big role in my motivation and interest to learn and practice motor skills. Some children are "motor driven" and want to try everything. Other children are "motor cautious" and need time to watch others before trying things themselves.

An understanding of motor development will enable you to pick activities that enhance my current skills and foster the development of emerging skills. When looking at my motor development, remember to look at both gross and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills involve my large muscle movements. Between one and four years of age, gross motor skills fall into one of three areas: movement, using stairs, and play. Fine motor skills involve the small muscle movements of my hands and fingers in coordination with his eyes. Between one and two years of age, fine motor skills fall into four areas: putting in, building up, putting together, and writing. In addition to these areas, the two- and three-year-old can engage in fine motor craft activities.

One-Year-Olds [ Top]

Gross Motor (be sure our house is safety proof)

Movement. At twelve months of age, I can creep on my hands and knees. At this age, I can also usually start to walk when you hold both my hands. About the same time I learn to walk with one hand held, I learn to stand alone. Next, I will learn to take a few steps by myself. By the time I am eighteen months old, I will probably walk forwards very well. I also will take a few steps sideways and backwards. As my walking skills improve, I can start to pull a toy on a string behind me while walking. Before you know it, I will carry large toys while walking and push and pull large toys or boxes around on the floor. By twenty-four months of age I run well.

Using stairs. Almost as soon as I can creep or walk to a set of stairs, I will try to climb them. I start by creeping or hitching up stairs. I then learn to creep down stairs. Once I am skilled at creeping up and down stairs and as my walking skills improve, I try to walk up stairs while you hold one of my hands. After I learn to walk up stairs holding one of your hands, I learn to go down stairs in a similar fashion. As I approach two years of age, I will walk up stairs holding onto a rail instead of your hand. At this age, most children continue to place both feet on each step as they walk up stairs. Be sure to supervise me carefully as I learn to use the stairs!

Play. One-year-olds like to climb on everything, but I need to learn what is and what is not acceptable to climb. Children at this age also enjoy playing with balls. I will throw a ball underhand when I am sitting before I can throw overhand in standing. When I first learn to throw, my aim is generally not very good. With practice, I will learn to throw a ball into a box. In addition to throwing balls, I enjoy trying to kick a ball. As I near two years of age, I begin to move on "ride on" toys without pedals.

Fine Motor

Putting in, building up, and putting together. I will learn to take out before putting in, to knock down before building up, and to take apart before putting together. At twelve months of age, I will love to take pegs out of pegboards and objects out of containers. I will like to knock down block towers as fast as you can build them. I will also enjoy pulling a string of pop beads apart and taking rings off ring stack toys. When learning to put in, I will put one item in and take it out, put one in again and take it out. Once I am good at putting one peg in a pegboard or one block in a container, I learn to put many pegs and blocks in without removing them. I usually learn to put a round shape into a shape sorter before a square one. If you try to encourage me to build a tower out of blocks, I will first build with only two blocks. I then learn to build a three- and then a four-block tower. Around two years of age, I can build a teetering tower of six blocks. By two years of age, I can put simple puzzles together by placing big non-interlocking pieces in the correct spot.

Writing. As a one-year-old I can mark and scribble on paper with a crayon. I will imitate vertical strokes, then circular scribbles, then horizontal strokes. When using a crayon, I need close supervision because I may occasionally try to put the crayon in my mouth, or I may decide that the wall or a chair cushion would make a good writing surface.

Two-Year-Olds [ Top]

Gross Motor

Movement. Between two and three years of age, I will become a very skilled jumper. I begin by jumping in place on both feet. Next, I jump forward, then backwards, and then sideways. In addition, I learn to jump two inches high, jump over a two-inch hurdle, broad jump, and jump down from eight inches high with one foot leading. Two-year-olds love to jump, but I need to learn what I may and may not jump from. As a two-year-old my balance is improving. Between two and two and a half years of age, I learn to walk on tiptoes, stand on one foot for a second, and take two or three steps on a balance beam. As I approach three, I may even try to hop on one foot. As my balance improves, so does my running. By three years of age, I can probably run very well and can make sharp turns around corners when running.

Using stairs. As a two-year-old, I no longer need to hold onto your hand or a rail; I walk up the stairs by myself. I do, however, continue to place both feet on each step as I go up the stairs. I am getting better at going down the stairs, but I still need to hold onto the rail. Between two and a half and three years of age, I walk upstairs alternating my feet placing only one foot on each step. Since alternating my feet is new to me, I usually hold onto the rail.

Play. The two-year-old is an excellent climber. I go up and down slides and climb on jungle gyms. Between two and three years of age, my ball skills continue to improve. I learn to throw a ball five to seven feet underhand, to catch a ball with straight arms in front of my body, and to kick a ball a few feet.

Fine Motor

Putting in, building up, and putting together. In addition to putting circles and squares into a shape sorter, the two-year-old can put a triangle into it. By two and a half years of age, I can imitate a simple train made out of blocks and build a tower using eight blocks. By three years of age, I can imitate a simple bridge made out of three blocks. Between two and three years of age, I learn to put a number of different types of toys together. I learn to place rings on a ring stacker, string a few one-inch beads, and put three-piece puzzles together.

Writing. As a two-year-old I have a much better understanding of what I should and should not write on. With practice I learn to hold a crayon or pencil with my thumb and fingers, and by three years of age, I can copy a circle. I may or may not show a hand preference by this age.

Crafts. As my fine motor skills become more refined, I can do very simple craft activities. I enjoy projects that involve paint, scissors, and glue. At first, I do best with finger paints, but soon I learn to paint with a brush. When I am first given a pair of scissors, I can barely hold them with both hands. By the time I am two and a half years old, I will hold a pair of scissors in one hand and snip a piece of paper. As I near three, I will snip on a line using scissors. Most two-year-olds love squeezing glue out of the bottle. Many, however, can't judge when to stop. As a result, I often need you to tell me when I have enough glue. Between two and three years of age, all craft activities require your constant supervision.

Three-Year-Olds [ Top]

Gross Motor

Movement. The three-year-old progresses from being a skilled jumper to an expert jumper. Between three and four years of age, I learn to jump eight inches off the ground and to jump over an eight-inch hurdle. I go from broad jumping four inches at three years to broad jumping almost two feet at four years. At three, I can jump from a sturdy object 16-18 inches high with one foot leading, and at three and a half, I can jump from a height of two feet with both feet together on takeoff and landing. At three and a half, I can also jump rope for two cycles, hop on one foot, stand on one foot for two to five seconds, and gallop.

Using steps. Between three and three and a half, I learn to walk up stairs using alternating feet without holding onto a rail. During this time I also learn to walk down stairs, placing both feet on the same step, without holding onto a rail. At around four years of age, I will begin to walk down stairs using alternating feet while holding onto the rail.

Play. The three-year-old likes playing ball. I kick and throw a ball well. At three I can kick a ball four feet and by four years of age I can kick a ball twelve feet. At three I can throw a ball underhand nine feet, and I am beginning to learn to throw overhand. But catching a ball can be harder for me. Coordinated catching skills generally don't develop until close to ten years of age and require a lot of practice. At three, however, I can catch a large (8 inch) ball with both arms extended straight in front of my body. I then learn to catch a large ball with my elbows bent. In addition to playing ball, I enjoy climbing on jungle gyms and dropping several inches to the ground. I also like riding a tricycle and can pedal about ten feet before needing to take a break.

Fine Motor

Putting in, building up, and putting together. The fine motor skills in this area become increasingly sophisticated between three and four years of age. During this time I learn to do more complex shape sorters--ones with stars, rectangles, and octagons. I also learn to build a ten-block tower, assemble 7 to 15 piece puzzles, and string one-half inch beads. I enjoy playing with many different types of construction toys such as Legos. By three and one half years of age, I demonstrate hand preference by picking up most items with the same hand.

Writing. Between three and four years of age, I develop the writing skills necessary to copy a cross and then a square. I may also attempt to copy a few letters, especially those in my name. By the time that I am four years old, I can draw a person with a head and one to three features.

Crafts. As a three-year-old I take pride in the fact that I am more skilled with crayons and paint. My scissor skills are also improving. At three years of age, I can make a continuous cut across a piece of paper. At around three and a half, I can cut a straight line, staying within a half inch of the guideline. By the time I am four years old, I am pretty good with glue, except I may squeeze too much from the bottle.

Arranging the Environment [ Top]

Gross Motor (be sure my play area is safety proof)

Arrange my outdoor and indoor play spaces for gross motor activities. Places for outdoor gross motor play include the backyard, park, or playground. The exact location isn't important as long as it is safe and I get experiences with jungle gyms to climb; toys to ride on; slides to go up and down; balls to throw, kick, and catch; and objects to push, pull, jump off, and over. Indoors, I should have several safe toys for gross motor play. Provide me with large boxes to push, pull, crawl through, and sit in. Allow me to use a ride-on toy in the house. Give me a large pillow to jump on. Give me small, safe objects to practice throwing and catching.

Routinely check all indoor and outdoor equipment and toys to make sure they are in safe condition. Check for potential dangers such as rough splinters, sharp edges, loose nuts or bolts, and protruding nails. Make sure the ground or floor under jungle gyms, slides, swings and other equipment is soft. Wood chips, sand, and grass are much safer to land on when playing outdoors than cement or gravel. A thick mat or carpeting is safer for indoor play than hardwood floors, linoleum, or tile.

Fine Motor

Arrange my outdoor and indoor play spaces for fine motor play. Indoors, provide me with a small table and chair to play at. On nice days, bring a few fine-motor toys outdoors. I can play with these toys at a picnic table or while sitting on a blanket in the grass. Offer me a variety of fine-motor toys. Encourage putting in by offering me small blocks and a box, junk mail and an oatmeal container, or plastic measuring cups and a nonbreakable mixing bowl. To promote building up, provide small and large lightweight blocks to play with. You can foster putting together by giving me pop beads, shape sorters, ring stackers, and puzzles. To introduce writing, supply me with pencils, crayons, markers, and paper. You also can allow me to write with chalk on a chalkboard or outdoors on a sidewalk. Inspire craft projects by allowing me to use paints, scissors, and glue with your supervision.

Providing a Variety of Experiences [ Top]

Gross Motor

Movement. Give me the time and space I need to crawl, walk, run, and jump. Make movement fun for me by playing little games. When going from one room to another, have me walk backwards, sideways, or on tiptoes. At another time, have me move like an animal to get to the next room. A fun outdoor activity is to play follow-the-leader through an obstacle course. Have me crawl through a tunnel, step over a rock, go down the slide, run around a tree, and jump in a small pile of leaves. On a rainy day, you can make an indoor obstacle course. Another good rainy day activity is to have a circus. As a tightrope walker I can walk across a long piece of masking tape that you lay on the floor. An an acrobat I can tumble and roll across a soft rug or mat. You can join the action or play the role of ringmaster and announce my performance to our imaginary audience.

Play. Encourage me to play on swings, slides, and jungle gyms. Take me to the park or playground to play on these pieces of equipment. Slides and jungle gyms should be low, and you should "spot" me in case I fall. If I am afraid of climbing or sliding, don't push or frighten me. Allow me to watch other children climbing and sliding. Describe what they are doing to focus my attention on the more important aspects. Swings should also be low and should have safety buckles. Remind me to always hold onto the swing. Teach me important playground safety rules, such as "Use the ladder, don't climb the slide." I will require very close supervision at a playground if I don't see danger and I go beyond my capabilities. Encourage me to use protective equipment, such as helmets and knee pads as needed.

In addition to playing at the playground, spend some time playing ball. If I am a beginner, try playing catch with a partially inflated beach ball or sponge ball. Both are easy to grab onto. If I am more advanced, put an old box or laundry basket in the middle of a room and give me a few small objects to practice throwing into the box.

Finally, engage in family exercise. At this age, I need to practice my gross motor skills in a noncompetitive environment. Family exercise allows me to practice gross motor skills in such an environment and enables you to serve as my role model. It also can help promote healthy exercise behaviors for a lifetime. Be sure to give me water to drink during and after exercise, especially on hot days.

Fine Motor

Putting in. Give me a variety of experiences putting smaller objects into larger containers. Everyday fun examples include putting mail into a mailbox and safe clothespins into a small opening in the lid of a coffee can. Once I am skilled at putting objects in, move onto pegboards and shape sorters.

Building. Provide me with small and large blocks to build a tall tower or to make a long road. Empty shoe boxes and lids taped together with masking tape make excellent large blocks. To make them more attractive, you can cover the boxes with contact paper or let me paint them. Unlike the more sturdy and reinforced commercially available giant blocks, shoe boxes will not support my weight. Be sure to tell me not to stand on these boxes.

Putting together. Offer me popbeads, a ring stacker, and puzzles so I can practice putting things together. My first puzzles should have large non-interconnecting pieces. Puzzle pieces with knobs attached make handling pieces even easier for me. When teaching me how to put puzzles together, have me run my finger around the shape of the piece and inside the opening in the puzzle. Talk about the shape and how it feels. When teaching me to put interlocking puzzles together, help me look for context clues in addition to shape clues.

Writing. As a step towards helping me learn to write, provide me with opportunities to draw with crayons and chalk. Draw with me and show me how to make horizontal and vertical lines. To develop the fine motor control required for writing, provide me with path activities. To make a path, draw two, four-inch lines about an inch apart. At the front draw a stick person and at the end draw a ball. Tell me to help the boy get to the ball by drawing a line from the boy to the ball. As I get better at this, you can make a curvy path or one that zigzags.

When I am interested in learning to write letters, describe the shape of the letters in a fun manner. For example, say, "To make the letter N, your pencil has to go up the mountain and down the mountain, then up the mountain again." In the beginning, draw a dotted version of the letter for me to trace. Once I am skilled at tracing letters, write letters and let me try to copy them.

Crafts. Provide me with opportunities to use paints. Use non-toxic paints that are washable because I can be rather messy while painting. You may also want to have me wear a smock or an old shirt of yours as a cover-up when painting. Let me paint with my fingers, a sponge, or a brush. Talk about the colors I use and ask me to describe my creations. For a fun outdoor painting activity, give me a small pan of water and a big brush to "paint" the sidewalk or house. If I am too young for crayons and paints because I put these items in my mouth, let me experiment by using pudding or yogurt as paint and my highchair tray as the paper.

When I am between two and three years of age, give me supervised experiences with child safety scissors. At first you will need to show me how to hold a pair of scissors and you will need to hold the paper for me while I snip. A fringed placemat is a nice little project for me to make with my new skill. To make a placemat, have me snip a design into the edges of a rectangular piece of paper. To teach me to make continual cuts across a piece of paper, give me strips of colored paper to cut across. Once I can make continual cuts, draw straight lines on the paper for me to follow.

Instead of throwing away the pieces of cut paper, let me glue them onto a piece of construction paper or a paper plate. When I first use glue, hold the bottle with me to teach me how much glue to squeeze out. If I have difficulty controlling the flow of glue or if I have trouble getting the glue on the paper, pour a small amount of glue on a paper plate and allow me to brush the glue on with an old paint brush. On a nice day, take me for a nature hike to collect leaves, twigs, and stones to glue onto a piece of paper.

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