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Large and Small Motor Development in the First Two Years

Sara Gable, Ph.D. State Specialist & Associate Professor, Human Development & Family Studies, Human Environmental Sciences Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia


During the first 2 years of life, babies grow and develop in many ways. Large and small motor development has a powerful effect on babies' social relationships, thinking, and language. Large motor development allows babies to have more control over actions that help them get around the environment; small motor development allows babies more control over movements that have to do with reaching, grasping, and handling objects. The sequence of these achievements is similar in groups of children, the rate of growth and development is what varies by individual.

Motor development in the first two years follows two trends:


  • Cephalocaudal: head before arms and trunk; arms and trunk before legs


  • Proximodistal: head, trunk, arms before hands and fingers

Voluntary Reaching and Grasping

Voluntary reaching and grasping play an important role in babies' cognitive development. When infants can reach for, hold, and manipulate objects, a whole new way of exploring the environment is realized.


Reaching Skills Appears about. . .
Prereaching Newborn to 7 weeks
Voluntary Reaching 3 months
Reaching for Moving Objects 5 months
Arms work Independently

(babies can reach with one arm rather than both)

7 months
Reaching for Moving Objects that change direction 9 months


Grasping Skills Appears about. . .
Ulnar Grasp: clumsy motion, fingers close against palm Present in newborns
Hold Object and Scan / Transfer Object from Hand-to-Hand (about 4 to 5 months)
Pincer Grasp: Press thumb and index finger together (about 1 year of age)
Manipulate small objects with improved coordination (13 to 18 months)
Manipulate objects with good coordination (19 to 24 months)


Motor Skill Average Age Achieved Age Range when Achieved by 90% of Infants
When held upright, holds head erect and steady 6 weeks 3 weeks to 4 months
When lying face down,
lifts self by arms
2 months 3 weeks to 4 months
Rolls from side to back 2 months 3 weeks to 5 months
Grasps cube 3 months, 3 weeks 2 to 7 months
Rolls from back to side 4 months 2 to 7 months
Sits alone 7 months 5 to 9 months
Crawls 7 months 5 to 11 months
Pulls to stand 8 months 5 to 12 months
Plays pat-a-cake 9 months, 3 weeks 7 to 15 months
Stands alone 11 months 9 to 16 months
Walks alone 11 months, 3 weeks 9 to 17 months
Builds tower of two cubes 13 months, 3 weeks 10 to 19 months
Scribbles vigorously 14 months 10 to 21 months
Walks up stairs with help 16 months 12 to 23 months
Jumps in place 23 months, 2 weeks 17 to 30 months
Walks on tiptoe 25 months 16 to 30 months




Barsley-Marra, B. L. (1993). Understanding and encouraging your young child's large motor development. University of Missouri, Extension Publications. GH6113.

Bayley, N. (1969). Bayley Scales of Infant Development. New York, NY: Psychological Corporation.

Bayley, N. (1993). Bayley Scales of Infant Development (2nd ed.). San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.

Berk, L. E. (2001). Development through the lifespan. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.



Last Updated 05/05/2009









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