What are FMS (Fundamental Movement Skills)?

What are fundamental movement skills (FMS), what age child do they relate to, and why are they so important for the healthy development of children?

Introduction to Fundamental Movement Skills

We hear a lot these days about how it is important to be physically well and maintain physical activity for a long and healthy life. What we don’t often hear about is the science behind our movement skills and how they develop from birth. Unpacking the how and why can help us understand why it is so important to encourage and support babies and children in their physical development so that they can build the skills they need to be considered physically literate later in life.

What are FMS (Fundamental Movement Skills)?

fundamental movement skills, fms
Most children find it FUN to learn their FMS – children love getting active and learning new ways to move or coordinate their body movements

Fundamental movement skills refer to the basic movement patterns we make that are traditionally associated with the physical development of the human body. They are known as the ‘building blocks’ or foundational skills / foundation movements that are needed to support the development of more complex skills that a child or person will need throughout their life. FMS include skills such as running, jumping, skipping, hopping, throwing and catching. These are the fine and gross motor skills that are fundamental to human movement.


What are all the different FMS?

There are a wide range of fundamental movement skills, but they generally fall into three distinct categories.

Body management skills (or Stability skills) are the skills that involve balancing the body in motion and in stillness. These skills include balancing, rolling, swinging, climbing, bending and stretching. If a person does not become competent in their body management skills, the development of other FMS becomes very difficult.

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There are 3 key types of FMS – Stability skills, Locomotor skills and Manipulation skills

Locomotor skills involve the transportation of the body. This can be in any direction as long as the body is moving from one point to another. Locomotor skills obviously involve several body parts and include walking, but they also include crawling, running, hopping, skipping, galloping, leaping and even swimming.

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Object control skills (or manipulation skills) involve manipulating and controlling objects and implements. These skills are seen when we use balls, bats, pens or tools. These skills are extremely important for later success in school and are essential for developing the skill of writing.

Supporting a child to build their skills in all three of these areas will help them to have the base-level skills that are needed before they can develop more complex movement skills to competently participate in sports and other physical activities.

Why are fundamental movement skills important?

Since physical literacy refers to a person’s ability to instruct the body to perform an action accurately, it is easy to see why the fostering of these fundamental development skills is very important. Through growing their fundamental movement skills, children are able to improve their strength, posture, coordination and even their sleep.

These skills will also build their confidence and social skills and children with good fundamental movement skills are far more likely to do better at sports. In fact, many school curriculums around the world now have a specific focus on FMS because experts have told us just how important they are. Dr Colin Higgs works at the Canadian Sport for Life program and here he talks about why kids need fundamental movement skills. (1090) Why do kids need Fundamental Movement Skills? – YouTube

Whilst fundamental movement skills are obviously important for physical development, they are also important for a child’s social and cognitive development. Professor John Cairney from the Human Movement and Nutrition Science School at UQ says that FMS are especially important for children under the age of 7. Cairney also says that “we don’t just drop a book in a child’s lap and say ‘here you go, learn to read.’ We support their development and their reading habits and give them the tools that they need in order to be effective readers. In physical activity, we often sometimes assume that children just naturally have the skills that they need in order to be physically active, and we know from the research that that’s simply not true”. 

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You can find a podcast by Dr Cairnery about FMS here: Active for Life podcast: Dr. John Cairney on the importance of physical literacy – Active For Life

If you are interested in reading a scientific article about the importance of fundamental movement skills, I recommend this one: How fundamental are fundamental movement skills?

What is the difference between fundamental movement skills and sports skills?

Basically, fundamental movement skills are needed for the development of sports skills. If a child is unable to coordinate their body in a way that allows them to catch, throw or kick a ball, it can make it very difficult for them to do well in organised sport and physical activity.

Once a child has developed strong FMS, they are able to build on these to develop more complex and specialised skills that help them do better in sports. An example of this can be seen in soccer. Once a child has learned how to kick a ball, they can build upon this skill to learn a whole range of other spectacular kicks  – like a backheal, curl or side-foot. If the child is unable to kick the ball to begin with, they will not be able to learn and master these more complex skills.

What happens if children don’t develop their FMS?

Children who do not develop their FMS from a young age, typically have a harder time in life. They might lack confidence in themselves, have greater difficulty within the classroom and they can even be at greater risk of injury. For some children, a disability or disorder might prevent them from developing their gross motor skills in the same way as typical children might, but an occupational therapist can support any child to still work on FMS in a way that is developmentally appropriate for them.

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If children don’t develop their FMS, they can be at higher risk of injury, and may not reach important physical milestones.

When do children start learning FMS?

From birth, babies will be developing their fundamental movement skills. A young baby will learn how to enjoy (or tolerate) some tummy time, how to develop some control over the body and will begin to learn hand-eye coordination as they play and manipulate objects. A toddler is learning to use their body in a new way as they begin walking and running – so these skills are growing and building all the time.

Whilst FMS do begin to develop from birth, it is between the ages of 3 and 5 where they really begin to transform. Children of this age are rapidly learning new movement skills and it is here that they will often learn how to kick, throw, skip and have greater mastery over their manipulation and control of objects.

The following website provides some useful information about FMS at each age and stage of development and even includes a checklist for helping parents identify what they should expect to see as their child grows : What are fundamental movement skills? – Active For Life

How can we foster FMS for children?

The best news is that parents and educators can do so much to foster a child’s movement skills through play. By encouraging and providing opportunities for a child to experience a wide range of physical activities, parents and educators are helping a child to develop their physical literacy. Once you observe what a child is currently capable of doing, you can then use scaffolding as well as intentional teaching to gradually develop those skills into more complex movements. So how do you teach FMS? Here are a few basic FMS building ideas and physical activities that you can enjoy with a child from toddlerhood and beyond by simply playing with them:

  • Practice throwing and catching a ball with the child. Begin with a soft ball and encourage the child to practice using each hand as they throw. You can even use targets and suggest throwing the ball as hard as possible.
  • Kick a ball to each other or against a wall.
  • Totem tennis is a great fun game that will help with so many FMS.
  • Give the child opportunities to run and race. Open spaces are best for this.
  • Encourage the child to practice balancing by standing on one foot or by walking along a line on the ground. Try hopping from one foot to the other and riding a balance bike will also be beneficial for the child.
  • Attend play groups and Kindergym sessions to give the child opportunities to use their skills in different environments. These places are specifically designed to support a child’s physical development and they are also lots of fun.
  • Encourage the child to engage in different kinds of risky play – where risks have been assessed and children are fully supervised.

For young children, here are some great equipment items that will also promote and support FMS.

  • Balance beams and stepping stones
  • Balloons
  • Hoops
  • Jumping equipment, such as sacks, ropes and hoppers
  • Beanbags
  • Balls and bats
  • Tunnels for crawling through
  • Music for dancing

fundamental movement skills, fms
You can encourage the development of key FMS in your child by simply playing fun games with them. Ball games are one of the easiest!

The Physical Educator website provides some great game ideas for parents and educators of school-age children to support the development of fundamental movement skills. These games can be played in groups and are also a lot of fun. Fundamental Movement Skill Games Archives – ThePhysicalEducator.com

Do early childhood services and schools develop FMS for children?

Most educators now have good understandings about the importance of developing fundamental movement skills in children. Outcome 3 of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) is centred around children’s wellbeing and states that children should ‘combine gross and fine motor movement and balance to achieve increasingly complex patterns of activity’. Munch and Move NSW have a wonderful resource manual that you can view here, to support the development of FMS as well as Healthy eating in children aged 0-5. The Australian Curriculum for schools also mentions that teachers must support children to broaden ‘the range and complexity of fundamental movement skills’. This means that in Australia, schools and early childhood education and care services both include a focus on supporting and developing children’s fundamental movement skills.

Summary of Fundamental Movement Skills

Just as we desire to support a child’s cognitive development, we must also pay attention to their physical development and ensure a holistic approach in our parenting and educational approaches. We now know why it is so important for babies to crawl before they walk – there is a biological process that occurs as children grow and develop. Thankfully, helping a child to build these skills is simple and fun. Incorporating experiences and activities that allow a child the opportunity to learn and practice their FMS will help them tremendously on their journey to becoming physically literate.

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