Motor Skill Matters
Many of us will fondly remember the magnitude of our toddler’s mission to learn to jump. There they would stand, elbows bent, before bouncing up and down for the final momentous lift off! Whilst these kinds of skills are small steps for adults, they are giant leaps for toddler-kind. They fall under the umbrella term of ‘motor skills’ and involve a finite co-ordination of specific functions in the brain, bones, muscles and nervous system.
In basic terms, motor skills include any kind of deliberate movement. At first a baby will wave its hands involuntarily and occasionally, much to their surprise, one will pass in front of their eyes. It can be months before they work out that they can control the strange thing waving around in front of them. All babies go through the stage of moving their hands around with a "wow-look-what-I-can-do" expression on their face.
Motor skills fall into two categories: gross and fine. Gross motor skills include head movements, rolling, sitting up, crawling, standing and walking. These movements use the body’s larger muscles, which are the first to develop and act as the foundation for all motor skills. Fine motor skills are slighter, more precise movements that utilise the smaller muscle groups. These finer skills first appear in the form of grasping or gripping, and later include more complex manoeuvres such as cutting or colouring.
Children are pre-programmed to develop their motor skills through practice. However there are a number of ways this process can be helped along. These involve encouraging specific activities and providing children with the right equipment so they can practice their skills to perfection. Below is a brief guide to the activities that will benefit your child’s motor skills at each stage of development.
Encourage younger babies to move and lift their heads by calling them or rattling something to get their attention. Hold their hands and lift them off their backs to sit , or roll them onto their side. This familiarises them with the feel of these basic movement. Rattles, activity gyms and mobiles will stimulate a child to learn fine motor skills like grasping and gripping.
Provide toys which that encourage more precise movements, like building blocks, or those with buttons. Try introducing sand and water play. Placing exciting and attractive objects slightly out of reach will encourage gross motor skills like crawling and walking.
This is a good stage for us to capitalise on the ‘copy cat’ mentality of our toddlers. Toy kitchens and dummy DIY sets are good proudly showing off their finer skills. Balls, ‘sit in’ vehicles and push along trolleys will help practice their gross motor skills. Playing musical instruments and listening to music will encourage both fine and gross skills, from nodding and clapping, to dancing and jumping.
Colouring and cutting are good ways to get children to focus on practising finer movements. Children of this age are sometimes beginning to focus on more involved activities such as completing a puzzle or beading. Frequent trips to the playground, swimming and equipment requiring skilled manoeuvring such as trikes and bikes, are great for developing gross motor skills.
36 Months +
We never stop developing our motor skills, so it is important to continue encouraging your child’s development with a variety of the above activities. Unfortunately modern technology has made sedentary pastimes extremely attractive to children. However they are never too old to enjoy playing football or putting together a puzzle. If they refuse to be active, lead by example. If you are painting a picture or kicking a ball around, it shouldn’t be long before they un-stick themselves from the telly and join you for some good old-fashioned motor skill development.