Category Archives: GLOSSARY

baby motor skill terms defined


a baby plays on her tummy on the floor


Babies learn their motor skills through lots of baby play.  Floor time  provides opportunity for play and exploration of movement.  In the above photo Zizu spends time on her tummy and discovers the benefit of pressing the hands down into the floor while lifting her head.  Zizu feels this advantage and will continue to repeat the movement which both strengthens her arms and prepares her for the motor skill of crawling.  This is just one example.  A baby may pick up an interesting rattle and while curiously examining it she may roll onto her back.  This is the beginning of the coordination of the motor skill of rolling.  It begins with baby curiosity and the floor space to explore both the toy and her own body movements.  An important parenting tip is that floor time should always be supervised and toys should be age appropriate.


Time on the floor also provides the opportunity for baby exercise.  Kicking and reaching arms and legs, pushing hands into the floor, rolling, and belly crawling use babies muscles in a manner that is equivalent to a “gym workout.”  The key is that they move themselves.  Motivated by their curiosity, once they “try a new move” they are intrigued and want to repeat it a several times.  Play mat time offers great exercise for baby!  And yet another benefit of baby exercise is the prevention of obesity.  We discussed this in one of our previous posts by examining a Wall Street Journal article from 2011.  This article encouraged reducing sedentary activities with baby (time in car seats, strollers, bouncy seats and watching TV) and increasing floor time on a baby play mat as part of an anti-obesity campaign in England.


  1. Fosters improved motor skill development
  2. Develops balance and coordination
  3. Creates time for baby curiosity and exploration
  4. Provides opportunity for baby exercise
  5. Follows anti-obesity campaign parenting tips



Part of the motor skill development during baby’s first year includes learning concepts of orientation.  These concepts include on, off, inside, outside, over, under, right, left, and more.  These concepts help us to be very clear about where we are in relationship to our environment. A baby who crawls under a chair has a very different perspective and relationship to the environment than a baby who is sitting on a chair.  Learning one’s orientation in space is part of a larger experience of proprioception, which tells us where our body parts are in space as well.  Sometimes the spatial orientation describes an object and its relationship to us, such as “The shoe is on your foot.”


Parents guide babies toward a highly-developed motor skill ability when they teach the concepts of spatial orientation during infancy.  Their movement develops more clarity and directness with the learning of these concepts.  Think about what you would do if someone asked you to go to the other side of the room.  Now, think about what you would do if someone asked you to go to the other side of the room and sit in the red chair.  This instruction regarding the red chair gives your movement a specific guideline that creates clarity and purpose in your movement.  A child would be clear about where to go and what to do when they arrive.  Without the instruction of the red chair there are so many options available.  Do they sit or stand?  On the blue chair or red chair or sofa?  Carefully chosen words clarify the movement for a child if she understands clearly the spatial concepts.  Learning these concepts begins at birth.


  • in/out
  • on/off
  • open/close
  • inside/outside
  • under/on top of
  • right/left
  • beside/across from/next to


Add these sentences to your vocabulary with baby to guide her toward an understanding of spatial concepts:

  • Hold the rattle in your hand.
  • Let’s put you in the car seat./Let’s take you out of the car seat.
  • Let’s put the shoe on your foot/Let’s take the shoe off your foot.
  • Let’s put the shoe on your right foot/left foot.
  • Sit in the high chair./Would you like to get out of the high chair ?
  • Set the block on the table./Set the block under the table.
  • Open your hand for some cheerios./Close your hand to hold the cheerio.
  • Shall we read a story?  Sit next to me.  Now, open the book.



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The technique of securely wrapping a blanket around  baby to keep her arms and legs secure is called swaddling.  The blanket is folded in a precise way to be rather snug and keep the arms and legs of a newborn baby from flailing around.  The Mayo Clinic website demonstrates one technique for swaddling a newborn.  This often is calming to the baby.  Sometimes babies are swaddled to keep them warm or to transport them more easily.  Mothers around the world have swaddled babies for these very same reasons for thousands of years.  Just think of the images you have seen of  babies swaddled and put into a papoose which is carried on the mother’s back in Native American tribes or of baby Jesus lying in the manager.


One of the most popular reasons for swaddling babies is to quiet their crying.  When nothing else seems to work, swaddling is often helpful in quieting a crying baby.  Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, demonstrates the swaddling technique in the above video from thehappiestbaby’s youtube channel.  Dr. Karp teaches that swaddling a newborn is one of the key elements to inducing a more calm and quiet state.  Some babies are swaddled just for sleeping at nighttime so they do not startle themselves as they move.


Newborns sometimes startle themselves when they move an arm or a leg.  They have been in a watery environment in the womb and the sensation of ones body moving in water is much different than when moving out of the water.  When in water there is more pressure against our limbs.  They have not yet developed much muscle control of their limbs.   Swaddling keeps them from flailing their limbs and provides a clear feeling of their body because of the snug wrap of the blanket.  The development of proprioception is very important for motor skill development during baby’s first year.  Because baby’s movements are sometimes sudden and unexpected at this early age the swaddling also keeps her from falling out of mommy’s arms.  It is important not to swaddle too tightly as well, which will be discussed in a future post.  When you ask ‘Why swaddle?” just remember the benefits listed below.


  • Keeps babies warm
  • Helps quiet baby
  • Makes baby easier to carry
  • Keeps baby safe
  • Improves baby’s feeling of her own body


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Praise can be defined as the expression of warm approval.  The action of praising baby occurs when baby does something new such as reaching a motor milestone or speaking a new sound.  It also occurs when baby does something familiar in a new and improved way, which may also include motor skill development.  For example, when baby crawls with improved coordination and strength her mother may say, “Good Girl!”  Although baby may not exactly understand the words, she knows by the tone of your voice and the bright smile on your face that she has done something good.  This communication from a parent serves as feedback for her so she will know what actions to repeat (and which to avoid).


Baby hears your message of encouragement most clearly when it is echoed through more than one of the 5 senses.  If you speak carefully chosen words of affirmation in a warm tone of voice which she can hear, smile at her and nod your head which she can see, and maybe pat her on the back which she can feel, she understands your affirmation through 3 sensory systems:  visual, auditory, and touch.  This is very clear communication for baby.  The other two senses, smell and taste, are used with animals when we give our dog a treat to eat when he sits upon command.


One of the most commonly used expressions today for praising baby is, “Good job!”  The baby rolls for the first time and mother says, “Good job!”  The baby crawls for the first time and the father says, “Good job!”  This phrase of “Good job” should be crossed off of our list of words for encouragement of baby development.  Why?  First off, regarding motor skill development, what baby is doing is not a job at all.  It is a movement they have learned for getting around in life.  Later on, when they learn a chore such as washing dishes you can say “Good job!”

Secondly, the use of the same phrase for each new skill learned does not guide them toward identifying the word that is associated with the skill.  Instead, choose words that describe the skill they are learning.  It is much more beneficial for the development of a baby if you say, “Beautiful rolling, Mary!  Good girl,” when she learns to roll and follow with “Good crawling,” later on when she learns to crawl.  Adjectives to combine with the name of skills for affirmation include beautiful, outstanding, excellent, good, great, and more.  And don’t forget Elmo’s lesson above from Maestro Gustavo Dudamel on Sesame Street’s youtube channel, when you see something “very great and amazing,” such as your baby crawling for the first time, you can say, ‘STUPENDOUS!”


  • Tone of Voice:  A positive and encouraging tone in the voice is like a gentle massage to her–it feels good.
  • Facial Expression:  Smile and nod your head.
  • Choice of Words:  Identify the skill baby is learning.
  • Touch:  Include an occasional pat on the back with your words.





If gross motor skills are large movement skills, then it makes sense that fine motor skills are small movement skills. When we talk about fine grains of sand or fine cracker crumbs, “fine” describes the small size of the pieces.  Fine motor skills describes the movements we learn with small muscles in our body, specifically the muscles of the fingers and eyes.  These skills are extremely important because they develop hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. These are the basis for important life skills such as writing, manipulating objects, dressing and grooming.  Examples of fine motor skills in babies include:

  • grasping
  • reaching
  • holding toys
  • putting toys in mouth
  • picking up coins
  • eating cheerios
  • grasping with thumb and finger


These fall into the Stellar Caterpillar “Top 10 Movement Skills” list under “grasping and reaching” and “eating.”  The development of fine motor skills in babies facilitates the development of fine motor skills in toddlers and older children.  School activities using fine motor skill development include writing, turning pages in a book, and using a computer.

Read and learn how to guide your baby to master the milestones for skilled fine motor development.  In a few years this well get baby off to a great start in school!



Motor skills are defined as movement skills, and gross motor skills are defined as large movement skills.  This means that the large movement skills not only are big in size, but they also use large muscles in the body.  Usually these skills result in locomotion, coordinated movement of the whole body which travels across the floor.  A baby milestone is the average age at which a baby acquires a particular motor skill, which pediatricians monitor during baby’s first year.  Examples of gross motor skills in babies include:

  • kicking
  • lifting the head
  • rolling
  • belly crawling
  • crawling
  • standing
  • cruising
  • walking


Excellent gross motor skill development results in the abilities to maintain balance,  move with coordination, sit in class with alertness, and master mechanical control of a pencil for handwriting.  On the other hand, a child with poor motor skills may be perceived as clumsy since he has difficulty with balance and coordination, essential components of movement activities.

Read and learn how to guide your baby to master the milestones for skilled gross motor development, giving him a great start!