Are there Differences in Motor Skills Between Boys & Girls

By Erica Loop
Four young children playing soccer on grass field
Four young children playing soccer on grass field

Equality between the sexes doesn't always extend to developmental abilities. While you might want to say that your daughter and son are both following identical patterns of motor development, chances are their motor skills actually differ. This doesn't mean one sex has an advantage over another. Each gender simply has some motor developments that happen either more quickly or slowly than they do in the opposite sex.

Gross Motor

If you think your son is developing gross motor skills at a more rapid pace than your little girl, it's possible that you're right. In general, boys build gross motor skills faster than girls do, according to Baby Center. Gross motor development refers to the use and coordination of large muscle groups. For example, between 8 and 12 months of age, most babies are learning to crawl, cruise and walk. Your tenacious boy may pull himself up and take off before your girl does. Likewise, a toddler boy may kick a ball before his female peer, and a male preschooler may throw a ball overhand before the girls in his class.

Fine Motor

While your boy is out running, jumping and climbing trees, your girl may have an easier time with fine -- or small -- motor skills. This may include holding a pencil earlier or being better at tasks that involve dexterity -- such as painting or cutting with scissors. Milestones that babies and children meet early on include using a pincer grasp by 12 months, scribbling at 2 years and drawing shapes and letters during the preschool and early elementary years, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics' HealthyChildren.org website. It's possible that some girls meet these markers a bit before their male counterparts.

Outside Influences

When reviewing the differences between boys' and girls' motor development, it's essential to understand that basic biology isn't the only factor. Although there are general differences that some parents may see, outside influences may play a larger role in the development of abilities than simply being a boy or girl. The family's socioeconomic status, parental education level, siblings and engagement in movement-based programs can all affect how quickly or slowly a young child builds gross and fine motor skills, according to a 2010 review published in the "Early Childhood Education Journal." For example, a girl who is taking a tumbling class may develop muscle strength and coordination at a quicker pace than a boy who doesn't participate in a movement program.

Spatial Skills

The child's developing spatial skills assist in the ability to move in general, judge distances and coordinate motions. It's possible that males develop these skills faster and to a higher degree than females. After reviewing brain behavior through scans, researchers believe that males are better able to make a connection between spatial perception and movement than females, according to a 2013 analysis published in the journal, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America." While this isn't true in every case, it may mean that boys are quicker to develop abilities, such as judging when to hit a ball with a bat or kicking a ball into the air.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.