We examined muscle recruitment patterns in children with cerebral palsy (CP) and comparison children without CP under conditions of maximum voluntary contractions. Three groups of children participated in the study: (1) 12 children with diplegic CP (eight males, four females; age range 4–10y, mean age 7y [SD 2y 4mo]); (2) six children with hemiplegic CP (four males, two females; age range 5–10y, mean age 7y 4mo [SD 2y]); and (3) 13 comparison children with normal motor function (seven males, six females; age range 4–11y, mean age 7y 2mo, [SD 2y]). The children with CP were classified according to the Gross Motor Function Classification System: eight were Level I, five were Level II, four were Level III, and one was Level IV. Surface electromyography was recorded from four proximal and distal lower extremity (LE) muscles. Children with CP more frequently activated a muscle other than the intended prime mover first, compared with the comparison children, especially when the prime mover was a distal muscle. For example, during ankle plantar flexion, when the lateral gastrocnemius muscle was the prime mover, children with hemiplegia showed preactivation of the tibialis anterior muscle and children with diplegia showed medial hamstring coactivation. In conclusion, children with CP showed considerable differences to the comparison children in how LE muscles were voluntarily activated. Greater understanding of muscle recruitment patterns under a variety of tasks may provide new directions for motor control retraining or other forms of intervention.