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Motor Skill in Five-Year-Old Children

Updated on August 25, 2011

Tricycles, roller skates, jumping, climbing, skipping, and swinging are only some of the activities that consume the days of five year olds. Given a choice, most children would rather be outside, engaged in some of these activities, rather than sitting inside playing a game. Five year olds are more poised and display better gross motor control than fine motor control.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills, the use of large muscles, are becoming well developed by age five. By this age, children become more restrained and less active in their overall level of movement. Your five year old is able to walk backward, placing one foot directly behind the other, and can run on his tiptoes. Stairs become an easy obstacle to overcome as he goes up and down stairs, alternating feet. For most five year olds, pedaling a tricycle has also become an easy task. Some well-coordinated children may even be ready for a two-wheeler with training wheels at this age. Climbing is done with sureness, and you can be certain there will be ripped pants or dirty knees from all the outside activities. Five-year-old children are able to turn som­ersaults and can jump from a 12 inch landing on their toes. A five to six year old can walk on a balance beam and may show a genuine interest in roller skates or in-line skates. Remember that knee pads, elbow pads, and a helmet are essential acces­sories to avoid injury.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills, such as those that involve manipulating objects, eye-hand coordination, and perceptual skills, are also developing at this age. These skills generally develop at a slightly slower pace than gross motor skills. Boys may be less adept than girls at this point but eventually reach the same level. Your five year old is able to build with blocks, manipulate buttons, and tie shoelaces. Coloring within the lines and cutting and pasting skills are emerging but are not well developed. Your child may be able to trace a triangle and copy a cross and square. Most children can cut on a straight line and can print their first name in capital letters. As children approach their sixth birthday, these skills become more refined. They can now copy a triangle, write the numbers 1 to 5, and color within the lines. Scissor use improves, and they are now able to cut out simple shapes. Handedness is well established by the time children reach their sixth birthday.

Fostering Motor Development

How can you, as parents, help your child's motor develop­ment? First, engage your child in any kind of physical activity to improve coordination. Running, jumping, and throwing a ball will all strengthen your child's gross motor development. Pro­vide your child with the opportunity to engage in various fine motor activities. Children who have difficulty with fine motor coordination are reluctant to engage in tasks that require those skills. Using special markers, pencils, or crayons can some­times entice a child to engage in drawing tasks. Allowing your child to "help" Mom or Dad cut out grocery coupons is a good way to improve scissor use. Clay and play dough, as messy as they can be, are great tools for strengthening hand muscles.

Sometimes, taking a close look around your house and observing the kinds of activities your child is interested in helps provide ideas for fostering fine and gross motor skills. A few more suggestions follow:

  • Use clothespins to hang small articles of clothing on the line.
  • Sort dried beans.
  • Hammer nails (with supervision!) to develop eye-hand coor­dination.
  • Seal and unseal the lids from plastic containers.
  • Set up an obstacle course using chairs, boxes, and other household items to help improve gross motor development.


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