Biological Influences on Motor Skills Development

Various factors influence a child’s motor skills development, which involves both the large muscle groups and smaller muscles. Besides motivation, physical growth and increased strength, practice plays a key role. According to information published by the USDA National Agricultural Library, when a baby grows and her muscles develop, involuntary reflexes gradually diminish as her brain and muscles begin working together to make voluntary movements 1.

Brain Connections

As an infant’s brain grows, the number of nerve cells increases. These nerve cells, known as neurons, are what transmit messages in the brain. explains that at birth many of these nerves are unconnected. However, during the first months of life, these neurons make connections with other nerves forming pathways in the brain. A baby learns to do more as the number of nerves connecting to each other increases. The more a baby is stimulated by his environment, the better the nerve cells in his brain can make the connections that affect learning. Some of the reflexes he is born with gradually disappear as his brain develops. At the same time, a baby's upper-body strength is improving, which allows him more control over his movements.


According to AskDrSears, while genetics might determine a baby’s potential, how well she achieves each stage of her development depends on the level of nurturing she receives from her environment 2. While a baby might have the ability to accomplish certain tasks, the kinds and amount of help that parents and other caregivers give her along the way affect the extent of her development. In other words, genetics provides the blueprint but like builders, caregivers help to complete the process.


Information published by the California Department of Education’s Child Development Division points out that although doctors and parents generally use a child’s age as a predictor for achieving developmental milestones, other factors come into play 3. For example, how much practice a child gets might have more to do with when she sits up, crawls and walks than how old she is at the time. According to KidsHealth, the more a child practices moving the better she will get at using her motor skills. In some cases, though, a child’s motor development isn’t always progressive. Sometimes a child can take steps backward before moving forward again. Backward steps are normal and often occur as babies learn to master new movements that involve the use of different motor skills.


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, encouraging an infant to explore his surroundings can help him develop his motor skills faster. How you hold a baby, the amount of time he spends playing on his stomach every day and how much physical activity he gets affect his development. Holding a baby too often or keeping him in an infant seat, highchair or swing for more than an hour at a time can actually delay motor development whereas placing him on his tummy in the prone position when he’s awake helps to strengthen his head and trunk. The kinds of toys you give a child to play with can also affect how early he develops his motor skills.