Just as we suspected…

Well, with sadness I just finished reading some research that confirms what we suspected.  There is a decline in gross motor skills in toddlers.

Pediatric therapists are frequently quoted as saying young children’s motor skills are declining.  Little ones enter school age with decreased fine motor and gross motor skills.  We say “based on my experiences” or “in my clinical opinion” children’s motor skills are suffering.  There is speculation that it is due to “bucket baby syndrome” – too much time in devices as babies and not enough floor time and too much screen time.  Well, with sadness I just finished reading some research that confirms what we suspected.  Gross motor skill development is lagging behind.

Decline in Gross Motor Skills in Toddlers

The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport published research on 335 children (ages 11-29 months old) from 30 different childcare centers in Australia.  Each child was evaluated with the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales-Second Edition using the gross motor quotient for locomotor skills, object manipulation, and stationary sub-tests.  Socioeconomic information was also collected.

Data analysis indicated the following:

  • 23.3% of the children scored below average for the gross motor quotient.
  • for the gross motor skills subtests: 
    • 34.3% of children scored below average for locomotion
    • 10.1% for object manipulation.
    • 0.3% for stationary.
  • Boys were more proficient in object manipulation than girls.
  • there was a negative association for gross motor skills between age and a higher socioeconomic status.
  • there were no associations for BMI.

What about Preschoolers?

In a different study of 330 Australian children in 60 different preschools also indicated a decline in normal motor skill development where almost 75% of the children could run but locomotor skills were lower for other skills such as the gallop (31% mastered), hop (25%), jump (22%), strike (14%), catch (20%), kick (35%), and throw (16%).


The researchers concluded that due to the prevalence of below average locomotor skills in toddlers gross motor skills should be encouraged early on focusing on locomotor skills and girls’ object manipulation skills.


In my personal opinion, I am not surprised to read the results of this study regarding the decline in normal gross motor skill development.  What I am surprised to find is that only 0.3% scored below average in the stationary subtests.  My hypothesis would have been that the stationary subtest was just as low as the locomotor skills since children need postural control and balance skills to complete locomotor skills.  After reading the results of this study, I have new questions:

  • Are children’s gross motor skills slower to develop due to lack of practice and not decreased postural control?
  • Why are girl’s object manipulation skills slower to develop?  Lack of practice as well?
  • This study used subjects starting at 11 months, would the results have been even lower if it started at 10 months old where creeping would have been the first locomotor skill to be examined?
  • Has a study like this been done in the United States?  The PDMS – 2nd edition was published in 2000 well before the smartphone was introduced to little ones…
  • Has a study like this been done on fine motor skill development?  I speculate the results would be worse…

This is one area where I wish we were proven wrong.  That all of our speculations were just what we were observing.  But it appears that our children are slowing in their development of gross motor skills.  This has the potential to have very long-term effects on the health and well being of our children and future society as a whole.  As pediatric therapists it is our job to continue to educate parents, family members, caregivers, and teachers on the importance of safe floor play for little ones and increasing physical activity time.


Veldman, S. L., Jones, R. A., Santos, R., Sousa-Sá, E., & Okely, A. D. (2018). Gross motor skills in toddlers: Prevalence and socio-demographic differences. Journal of science and medicine in sport.

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Well, with sadness I just finished reading some research that confirms what we suspected.  There is a decline in gross motor skills in toddlers.