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Today's Child

Motor Development

control, dexterity, flexibility
ability, creativity, exploration, understanding
motor skills

3 Types of Motor Skills 

Why Focus on Motor Skills? 

motor skill development increases:

  • ability to move in variety of ways
  • ability to control one's body
  • ability to think, problem solve
  • ability to assess and plan
  • and one's self-esteem

How Does Motor Development Affect Self-Esteem?

Motor development is the most visible of innate abilities.
It is seen by others, judged by others.
It is acknowledged, compared to, commended and shamed.

We, being highly conscious of our motor skills--our potential and abilities-- are greatly influenced by them. Our language betrays our need for motor excellence.  From birth, we judge the development of a child by whether he is rolling over yet, sitting up, using the toilet.  We assess a child by what he can DO: "Look at what you have done!" "I knew you could do it.  You are such a big boy."  "You did it just like me. Good for you." It is through successes at "doing" that children receive recognition.  And even if the words aren't said, it is easy to see for yourself that you are not first in a race, that another person can climb higher, that they can do what you cannot.
But what if they can't "DO" like someone else?  What if the natural ability isn't there, or the skill hasn't been developed?  How does this child feel?  How is he seen by others in his world? What kind of feedback does he receive? Our initial perception of self is an interpretation of how we think others perceive us.  So what can we do, to enhance the self-esteem?

We can:
  • provide more acknowledgement to effort
  • help the child build self-rewards
  • focus on all aspects of development
  • help build the motor skills
  • use their strengths to enrich their development

Enhancing Motor Development

With any skill, to develop it, one needs to explore it, to experience it, to practise it.  Every single thing children do is building their understanding and their abilities.  From day one, we need to be providing as many experiences and as much freedom as we can to provide children with the opportunities to manipulate their muscles, to find the limits, to increase the ability, to determine what movement the situation calls for and how to make it happen.
Consider the following: 

A young child walks towards a ball, with the desire to pick it up.  She leans over to touch the ball, but, instead, her foot hits it and the ball goes sailing across the room.  She walks towards it again, and this time tries to kick the ball on purpose, but misses and her foot goes past the left side of the ball.  She tries again, and again.  She kicks it and she begins to run after the ball, tries to stop in front of it, and falls forward. She stands up and kicks it to a new location and she giggles.

What has occurred within this child?  How has she grown, developed, changed?
She has learned:
  • that feet have to be watched, not just hands
  • if you hit something, with your foot, it moves
  • you have to aim at the ball, not just swing your leg
  • don't give up
  • don't run too fast when you go after a ball
  • slow down before trying to stop
  • start stopping at a certain distance, depending on the speed you are moving
  • how to assess speed, distance, force
  • connections between "cause and effect"
  • you can do it if you keep trying

All she did was kick a ball!! ??

Movement involves judgment.  One must assess the situation and one's ability (speed, power, etc) and make the appropriate movement.  How hard should I throw?  How fast should I run?  How much effort do I need to jump that high?  When should I start to stop? Just imagine the multitude of situations in a child's lifetime when they will have to use these skills.  But the problem solving is not just at this surface level.  These are all examples of decision-making that is needed in school, and social life. 

"What will happen if...?"  "Should I...?
It is through movement that the ability to problem solve first develops.  Therefore, let the children crawl on the floor, climb onto the couch, squeeze into tight locations and out again (up to safety limit of course). Let them: climb trees, run the vacuum cleaner, peddle a bicycle, and slide down a hill.  Motor develop builds more than just their muscles.  It builds their future!

Some tips:
 (acknowledgement to Dr. Mel Levine, Professor of Pediatrics at University of NC School of Medicine for many of these tips)

  • do not coerce or force children with gross motor dysfunctions to participate in competitive sports

  • follow the child's lead: find one sport at which the child can succeed, keeping in mind their abilities

  • remember that succeed does not mean win

  • while developing initial skills, provide the 1:1 assistance 

  • find a form of artistic / musical expression that provides a sense of satisfaction. Very therapeutic.

  • do not ridicule at being clumsy

  • help children see motor activities as forms of entertainment and gratification rather than emblems of overall competency

  • use technology to assist motor mastery

  • provide balance of activities, exposing child to many experiences

  • recognize and allow differences between siblings/friends; do not compare

  • help children develop ability to praise others' accomplishments without feeling degraded

  • be sensitive to insecurities, being aware of why a child is hesitant

  • be fair to all children: encourage patience, understanding, teamwork, and acknowledgment to all

  • use non-competitive, repetitive exercises and activities to enhance motor development

  • when planning an event, remember the roles of "reporters" and "managers" and "promotions" etc

  • the arts (including music, woodworking, painting) can develop motor skills while providing a sense of accomplishment to children

  • develop fine motor, graphomotor, and gross motor skills

A bit about Graphomotor

Graphomotor is similar to fine motor skills but focuses on writing skills.  Skills needed to use scissors or a needle are much different than the control needed to use a writing tool.
Graphomotor skills not only involve the flexibility of the finger muscles but, also, the ability to keep up with the flow of ideas.  How frustrating it must be to not be able to write down what you are thinking.
Writing that is laborious, possibly illegible, and poor content can be very frustrating, which in turn affects the self-esteem and the desire to even try.


What are some activities to do??


  • "math circuits": answer question to determine the number of repetitions
  • "run across the city/province": how many laps do you have to do?
  • "statues": how long can you hold a pose? (great motor control development)
  • march to different rhythms, beats, dynamics
  • create large murals (large muscles) and mini-pictures (small muscles)
  • play team challenges where all must succeed to meet the challenge... ex. fit everyone onto a 2' square board.. the "brains" may be the ones to figure out "how" to do it.
  • create a new sport -- making the rules, the equipment, coordinating, managing, advertising etc. 

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copyright, 1999: Debbie Roswell