Children are not born with perfect motor skills, but rather motor development happens through learning and practice. Mastery of motor movements is a combination of physical growth and developing skills through experience. Motor skills not only enable children to walk or play sports but also to write or make art. Without proper motor skill development, children might struggle in school or might not receive the appropriate amount of physical activity.
Gross Motor Skills
Large muscle movements are called gross motor skills and are included in activities such as catching or throwing a ball, running in a game of tag or climbing up a ladder. According to HealthyChildren.org, most toddlers and preschoolers work on mastering these skills. Children will concentrate at first on staying upright and maintaining balance, and gradually the skills of graceful arm, leg and torso movements will become easier. Between ages 6 and 7, children refine skills like jumping or running, and they are able to combine skills for coordinated movement. While adolescent girls make only modest gains in their gross motor skills, adolescent boys gain speed, strength and endurance throughout their teen years.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills refer to small movements, such as those needed to pick up a piece of cereal in a pincer grasp between thumb and index finger. Kids can practice fine motor skills with games like puzzles or sorting toys. Art and craft activities also provide many opportunities for fine motor control. For example, drawing shapes like circles or triangles are necessary skills for hand writing and even cursive. Children’s fine motor skills play a role in feeding or clothing themselves, brushing their teeth, opening a door or pointing to an object, which are daily activities needed for children to lead independent lives as adults. Fine motor control continues to grow through the elementary years, and you will notice more refined movements and stability as your child ages. Teenagers might gain more fine motor skills through new lessons in keyboarding or texting, but they typically improve more through specialized training or practice, such as learning a musical instrument.
Taking part in regular physical activity leads to a healthier lifestyle, according to PBS.org. Lack of motor skills contributes to a decrease in physical activity. For example, if a toddler has trouble kicking a ball, he is less likely to play games that involve the motion. A deficiency in physical activity can lead to childhood obesity or other health problems. Additionally, many group tasks require movement, so development of motor skills help children advance their social skills. Physical exertion has also shown to be effective in releasing energy and regulating emotions. Through the late elementary and teenage years, physical activity is an ideal way to help improve symptoms of depression or anxiety that often come about during this time. Playing sports helps teenagers move with better precision and strength.
Improving Motor Skills
Serious motor control problems are rare, but increasing opportunities for play and practice can improve these skills. For example, if you have a toddler who still walks only on his tiptoes, buy shoes that make a sound when he stomps with his heel. If he does not use his arms to balance himself when walking, give him a shaker and encourage him to make sound when he walks. Purchase art materials for a child who needs to improve fine motor control, or practice stringing beads onto a piece of yarn; older children might enjoy learning an instrument or picking up skills like calligraphy or mechanical work. If interventions do not work at home, you can consult an occupational therapist, or encourage your teenager to join a swim team or other sport in the summer to help build motor skills. Your child must learn all these skills to function properly as an adult.
- Young Children: Why Motor Skills Matter
- PBS: The Importance of Developing Fundamental Motor Skills
- Education.com: The Importance of Motor Skills
- Healthy Children: From Motor Skills to Sports Skills
- Seven Counties Services, Inc.: Adolescent Physical Development: Part II
- Education.com: Physical Development and the Acquisition of Motor Skills
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