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Importance Of Play In Developing Fine And Gross Motor Skills

By Sarah Shakibaie, Occupational Therapist.

Fine and gross motor skills are the underlying skills for our children to become independent in playing sports, dressing, tying shoelaces, brushing their teeth, using cutlery, sitting in class and the list goes on. But instead of doing lots of repetitious exercises, the best way for them to develop these skills is through play. 

Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10 and 20 repetitions!      - Karyn Purvis

As parents, we might constantly refer to the developmental milestones charts to see if our child is meeting their milestones. And once they learn a skill, we try and help them move to the next skill. But one important activity that you can consistently get them to do, is play. Science has told us that this is the best way for children to learn!

Play allows our children to not only develop their fine and gross motor skills, it also allows them to develop their emotional and social development. Playing games such as peekaboo, playing house and tea parties make children think creatively, interact socially and understand how to process the world.

imaginative play ideas for kids

The Developmental Benefits of Play

Play is more than just fun and games. There are a vast number of benefits of play. All these skills developed through play can be used in our child’s daily life and in their learning. Play strengthens a child's base for learning, problem-solving, building an understanding and so on. It allows children to imitate what they see and practice it. Play improves their creativity and makes them learn how to interact with the world.

Here are some of the benefits of play:

  • Physical Benefits- Play helps in the development of both fine and gross motor skills. Through play, children learn easily about spatial relations that promote their motor planning and balancing skills. Children who play regularly develop endurance, energy, flexibility and body awareness.
  • Cognitive Benefits- Play is known for developing critical thinking skills. It strengthens their memory and helps them to understand cause and effect. Play makes children learn how to coordinate with others and encourages them to explore new things. It essentially makes little learners open-minded and develops the skill of brainstorming.
  • Social Benefits- Play is also crucial for social development in children. Kids who play regularly are better at communicating than others who do not play. It helps kids understand how to interact with the world. Play is a great way to teach social rules and expectations to children. It provides an opportunity to share ideas and listen to others.
  • Emotional Benefits- Understanding and processing emotions is important. Play helps children to process their emotions and learn new concepts. It builds confidence and develops identity and self-esteem in children.

Developing Fine & Gross Motor Skills Through Play

Play is important for your child's fine and gross motor skills development. Indeed, play you’re your child practise large body movements, which is also known as gross motor skills. Apart from that, it perfects the coordination of small muscle movements that are known to be fine motor skills.

Practising motor skills are important as they improve a child's physical strength, movement and balance. Motor skills are important for all the activities you do in your daily life. Whether it is about walking, running or lifting, motor skills help individuals to move and do everything else. The development of motor skills and control begins from a child's birth and progress as they grow into adulthood.

  • Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills involve the control of large muscles like arms, legs and trunk. These skills are important for regular physical activities like walking, running, jumping, throwing, lifting and so on.

Gross motor includes body awareness, strength, balance and speed. The development of gross motor skills is also important for fine motor development.

Some activities that support gross motor development include:

  • Give your child opportunities to climb up, down, under and over objects.
  • Ask them to help you rearrange their room by pushing boxes around and carrying books to the other side of the room.
  • Play hopscotch or jump on the trampoline.
  • Practise throwing, catching and kicking balls.
  • Say an animal and get your child to pretend to walk like that animal.
  • Go for a bike ride together
  • Provide them with objects that need pushing or pulling like prams, trolleys and so on.

 Gross motor skills for kids development

  • Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skill is all about controlling small muscles in our hands and fingers. It also involves the coordination of the hands with the eyes.

Developing fine motor skills enable your child to perform actions like holding, grasping, pressing and so on. Apart from the small muscles, fine motor skill development involves the development of visual-motor skills, which is also known as hand-eye coordination. It helps your child to coordinate their body with what they see and interact with the world.

Activities supporting fine motor development include:

  • Encourage your child to create artwork with clay or playdough
  • Create artwork that require the coordination of both hands, including tearing, scrunching, and gluing paper.
  • Use scissors or hole punches
  • Provide them with tweezers or tongs to pick up items.
  • Use different containers and encourage your child to pour water into them.
  • Promote threading and lacing by providing them with items like beads, buttons, pasta, laces, strings and so on.
  • Encourage them to play with puzzles to develop their grasping skill.
  • Encourage your little one to draw, paint and colour to strengthen their hand-eye coordination and gain greater control of their hands.

 playdough for fine motor skills

While developing your child's fine and gross motor skills through play, always remember that each little individual is unique with different developmental needs. Play is undoubtedly an effective way to strengthen skill required for learning. With the right opportunities, they will not only develop motor skills but also learn cognitive, social and emotional skills.


Sarah Shakibaie is a Paediatric Occupational Therapist and co-founder of ReadyKids OT. ReadyKids OT provides an online platform of Occupational Therapy resources specifically for parents and educators. If your child has difficulty with fine motor, gross motor, toileting, dressing, handwriting, focus, play and social skills, check out ReadyKids Occupational Therapy Resources for quick activities that you can do with your child.