Physical Development: Motor Development

Gross Motor Skills Development

During middle childhood, children continue to build on and improve gross motor skills; the large-scale body movement skills such as walking and running that they first learned during earlier developmental stages. In general, boys develop these skills slightly faster than do girls, except for skills involving balance and precise movements such as skipping, jumping and hopping.

At this age, children run faster than previously possible, often clocking more than eighteen feet per second. They can also jump higher (on average between four and twelve inches off the ground) and farther (on average, three to five feet or more). These figures are average for children of this age range and will not apply to individual children. No two children will develop physical skills in exactly the same pattern or time frame. Caregivers who have concerns about how their children's gross motor skills are developing should consult with their pediatrician.

Middle-Childhood-aged children also refine their control over gross motor skills, learning to master where they hop, skip, throw, and jump. They are able to gain this improved control and coordination due to increases in their flexibility (e.g., their range of movement in joints and muscles), balance, and agility (e.g., their ability to change their body's position, which requires a combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, and strength) Kids at this age also learn how to synchronize the movement of their body's various parts, allowing for the development of smoother, more coordinated whole-body movement routines such as are needed for participating in organized sports (e.g., throwing a football, batting a baseball, or dribbling a basketball). Due to their progress with regard to the growth and maturity of motor, cognitive, and social skills, many children will now become capable and competitive participants on sports teams.

Fine Motor Skills Development

Children in middle childhood also continue to hone their fine motor skills which can be distinguish from gross motor skills in that they require hand-eye coordination. In contrast to how gross motor skills develop, girls tend to develop fine motor skills slightly faster than do boys.

Specifically, middle-childhood-aged children show dramatic improvements with regard to their printed handwriting and ability to write in cursive letters (e.g., "script" forms of handwriting). They also develop the ability to draw complex and detailed pictures that for the first time begin to incorporate depth cues (i.e., such as drawing farther away objects smaller) and 3D elements. Often, children's artistic ability can truly begin to shine during this stage as improved fine motor skills and imagination combine.

During this stage, children also learn how to use their hands to successfully accomplish manual activities other than drawing or writing. For instance, they become capable of executing complex detail-oriented craft projects involving beading, sewing, scrap booking, building models, and good at using simple tools such a hammer or a hand mixer (both under adult supervision, we hope!). Learning to touch type becomes a serious possibility at this time. Children also commonly become quite skillful at playing complicated games involving hand-eye coordination, including video and computer games.

Children's easy use of communications tools such as cell phones and computers, which becomes possible as they master increasingly complex fine motor skills, exposes them to a world much larger and more complicated than they can possibly imagine. Parents need to be aware of both the positive and negative potential effects of allowing children of this age to play video games and access the Internet. Please refer to our article on Children and Media for further discussion of this serious issue, including a clear explanation of the dangers and opportunities associated with children's use of media and strategies for protecting them from media's worst influences.