The preschool years are the period when young children acquire basic motor skills. The skills fall into two categories: fine motor and gross motor. Recall that fine-motor skills involve use of the hands and fingers, whereas gross-motor skills are the movements that allow the individual to become mobile and engage in skills requiring body movement. Perceptual-motor development is also discussed in terms of the relationship between movement and the environment.

Gallahue (1993) proposes that children move through a developmental progression in the acquisition of motor skills. This progression includes the reflexive movement phase, the rudimentary movement phase, the fundamental movement phase, and the specialized movement phase. The sequence of the appearance of these phases is universal, although the rate of acquisition of motor skills varies from child to child.

The reflexive movement phase ranges from birth to about 1 year of age. In this phase the infant engages in reflexive movements.

The rudimentary movement phase includes the basic motor skills acquired in infancy: reaching, grasping and releasing objects, sitting, standing, and walking. The skills of the rudimentary movement phase acquired during the first 2 years form the foundation for the fundamental phase.

The fundamental movement phase occurs during the preschool years ranging from ages 2 to 3 to ages 6 and 7. During this phase, children gain increased control over their gross- and fine-motor movements. They are involved in developing and refining motor skills such as running, jumping, throwing, and catching. Control of each skill progresses through initial and elementary stages before reaching a mature stage. Children in this phase first learn skills in isolation from one another and then are able to combine them with other skills as coordinated movement.

The specialized movement phase begins at about 7 years of age and continues through the teenage years and into adulthood.

Gallahue cautions that maturity and physical activity alone do not ensure that children will acquire fundamental movement skills in the preschool years. Children who do not master these skills are frustrated and experience failure later in recreational and sports activities. Knowledge of the process of fundamental motor skills can help early childhood educators to design appropriate curriculum and activities for children.