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Toddler Gross Motor Skills and Brain Development

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Toddler Gross Motor Skills and Brain Development

What are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills are those which engage the larger muscle groups in the body;  as apposed to fine motor skills which involve smaller muscles and more precise actions like writing, pinching, etc. You use your gross motor skills in order to hold up your head, sit, stand, walk, run and generally balance. Throughout our lives we will practice and eventually come to master particular motor skills. Early development is an especially exciting time for toddler gross motor skills, and we’re here to tell you why…

Toddler Gross Motor Skills Milestones for 12- 18 Month Olds:


Crawling up stairs, scooting down



Picking objects up

Walking independently

First Steps… Walking!

Toddler time for many means those magical first steps. A 13-20 month old has now developed a motor center in their brain, making it possible for your little one to connect impulses with physical action. The milestone of walking is reachable now specifically because neurological pathways in your toddler’s brain have become myelinated enough to transmit signals from brain to foot.

What is Myelin and Myelination?

Think about neurons as tubes in which little bundles of information are carried from the brain to other parts of the body. For example: to raise your arm, first your brain must send an information packet from your brain to your arm to say ‘hello over there, raise up!’. Myelination is like greasing up those tubes so the message can slide even faster, making reaction time of movements quicker.

So, myelination is simply an impressively scientific name for the process by which neurons, the brain’s signal pathways, are wrapped in fatty fibers which provide insulation. The more insulation, or myelin fibers, surrounding a pathway, the faster and clearer the signal can be transmitted.

Due to lack of myelination, or neurological grease, a baby’s first steps will surely be a tad clumsy and wobbly, and this will be eased as myelination continues to increase over the next couple of years.

And the only way to increase myelination? Practice and repetition.

How Can You Help?

1. Practice makes perfect. Practicing toddler gross motor skills using any type of physical movement (from hand holding, to kicking, and don’t forget dancing) helps strengthen not only the motor centers but the muscles involved in walking.

2. Place toys in different parts of the room so your little one will be encouraged to explore all corners.

3. Arrange ‘obstacle courses’ of low, safe spaces to be climbed on, around, over, in between and most importantly where kids can pull themselves up to standing position.

4. Toys that involve pushing and pulling at a standing position are terrific for developing confidence and muscle memory for toddler gross motor skills.

5. Take your time. Children learn to walk but each only when their own unique motor and movement center is ready.

6. Pump up the jams! Listening to music can inspire your little ones to get moving. Any type of movement helps build muscles and that all important muscle memory.

Resources and references