Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

September 20, 2022

The Importance of Fundamental Movement Skills

By Scott Harvey, MPT

In physical therapy, we often help children develop and master their fundamental movement skills, starting as early as ages 2 to 3. But what exactly are the fundamental movement skills?

There are three different categories of fundamental movement skills:

  1. Locomotor skills: running, jumping, hopping, skipping, and galloping.
  2. Non-locomotor skills: balancing on one foot, twisting, turning, stretching, and bending.
  3. Object manipulation skills: kicking, catching, throwing, dribbling, and striking.

Mastering these movement skills is the foundation for participating in sports and recreational physical activities. If a child does not master one of these skills, they will be less likely to willingly participate in an activity or sport that requires proficiency of that skill. A lack of movement skills can potentially restrict a child’s participation in lifelong health-promoting activities.

Children need direct instruction and practice to learn their fundamental movement skills, and this is a required component of physical education (PE) classes. However, just how well are these skills instructed in the PE curriculum for children in grades 1 to 6?

To help answer this question, a recent study was conducted, titled: “Physical literacy in elementary physical education: a survey of fundamental movement skill practice patterns” [1].


The study conducted a survey of elementary physical education (PE) teachers from grades 1 through 6 to better understand how fundamental movement skills (FMS) are instructed, evaluated, and remediated. The survey collected 87 responses from various U.S. regions from January 2018 to March 2019. Here are the study’s findings:

  1. For grades 1-3, 66% of PE teachers taught all the FMS. As for grades 4-6, only 42% of teachers taught all the FMS.
  2. Most PE teachers evaluate FMS skill proficiency through observation and participation in class. Only 3.7% of teachers used a standardized assessment of gross motor skills.
  3. For children who appeared to be falling behind, only 8.8% of teachers reported referring the child to an exercise program. Not a single PE teacher made a referral to a healthcare provider.
  4. The greatest barrier to improving a child’s movement proficiency was a lack of time, as reported in 52.4% of responses.

Based on these results, there is a lack of comprehensive instruction and support within the schools for children who are delayed with their fundamental movement skills.

The good news is that pediatric physical therapists are uniquely positioned to provide skilled services for children outside of schools. In particular, pediatric physical therapists can provide a time efficient evaluation of a child’s motor development. Based on the evaluation, we determine what areas of delay need to be addressed and develop a fun individualized treatment plan for your child. Our goal is to help your child achieve age-appropriate motor skills, so they can enjoy participating in physical activities with their peers at school or in the community.

As parents, if you are unsure if your child is delayed in their movement skills, or their PE teacher notices they are having difficulty keeping up in class, then our physical therapists are here to help! Please contact us at either office to schedule a phone consultation with one of our physical therapists. We also offer a 30-minute motor development readiness check from our physical therapists, and no referral is needed.



[1] Physical Literacy in Elementary Physical Education: A Survey of Fundamental Movement Skill Practice Patterns: The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 8(4), published April 30, 2020.