Those who lack fundamental motor skills are likely to experience frustration and difficulty in learning more advanced skills, reducing their enjoyment of sports and other activities.
Child Development & Guidance
Child development is a gradual stage-by-stage process. Every child passes through the same developmental stages, but not at the same time or at the same rate of speed (pace). This book will provide numerous ways to handle individual differences, whether they be physical, intellectual, emotional or social. The activities and information in this book suggest ways, methods and activities that parents/educators and childcare givers can guide, assist and assess the development of their children, and ways in which children can use the activities within this book to inform and familiarise themselves with the development of their bodies, emotions, minds, relationships with other people, and their moral, ethical and spiritual values.
During the infant and toddler years, children develop basic grasping and manipulation skills, which are refined during the preschool years. The preschooler becomes quite adept in self-help, construction, holding grips, and bimanual control tasks requiring the use of both hands. – Essa, E., Young, R. & Lehne, L., Introduction to early childhood education, 2nd Ed. (1998)
What are Motor Skills?
Fine & Gross Motor Skills Explained in a Language we can Understand
Fine motor skills can be defined as small muscle movements: those that occur in the finger, in coordination with the eyes. Teaching fine motor skills is similar to teaching other skills because the instructor must always try to be patient and understanding. “Fine Motor Skills” won’t develop over-night, but with time and practice.
In application to motor skills of hands (and fingers) the term dexterity is commonly used.
The abilities which involve the use of hands, develop over time, starting with primitive gestures such as grabbing at objects to more precise activities that involve precise hand-eye coordination. Fine motor skills are skills that involve a refined use of the small muscles controlling the hand, fingers, and thumb. The development of these skills allows one to be able to complete tasks such as writing, drawing, and buttoning.
Pre-kindergartners benefit from experiences that support the development of fine motor skills in the hands and fingers. Children should have strength and dexterity in their hands and fingers before being asked to manipulate a pencil on paper. Working on dexterity and strength first can eliminate the development of an inappropriate pencil grasp, which is becoming more commonplace as young children are engaged in writing experiences before their hands are ready. The following activities involve the use of manipulatives which will support young children’s fine motor development, and will help to build the strength and dexterity necessary to hold a pencil appropriately.
When scissors are held correctly, and when they fit a child’s hand well, cutting activities will exercise the very same muscles which are needed to manipulate a pencil in a mature tripod grasp. The correct scissor position is with the thumb and middle finger in the handles of the scissors, the index finger on the outside of the handle to stabilize, with fingers four and five curled into the palm.
The following activities ought to be done frequently to increase postural muscle strength and endurance. These activities also strengthen the child’s awareness of his/her hands.
- Wheelbarrow walking, crab walking
- Clapping games (loud/quiet, on knees together, etc.)
- Catching (clapping) bubbles between hands
- Pulling off pieces of thera-putty with individual fingers and thumb
- Drawing in a tactile medium such as wet sand, salt, rice, or “goop”. Make “goop” by adding water to cornstarch until you have a mixture similar in consistency to toothpaste.
- The “drag” of this mixture provides feedback to the muscle and joint receptors, thus facilitating visual motor control.
- Picking out small objects like pegs, beads, coins, etc., from a tray of salt, sand, rice, or putty. Try it with eyes closed too. This helps develop sensory awareness in the hands.
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The term “Gross Motor Skills” refers to the abilities usually acquired during infancy and early childhood as part of a child’s motor development. By the time they reach two years of age, almost all children are able to stand up, walk and run, walk up stairs, etc. These skills are built upon, improved and better controlled throughout early childhood, and continue in refinement throughout most of the individual’s years of development into adulthood. These gross movements come from large muscle groups and whole body movement.
The Development of Posture
Gross motor skills, as well as many other activities, require postural control. Infants need to control their heads to stabilize their gaze and to track moving objects. They also must have strength and balance in their legs to walk.  Newborn infants cannot voluntarily control their posture. Within a few weeks, though, they can hold their heads erect, and soon they can lift their heads while prone. By 2 months of age, babies can sit while supported on a lap or an infant sear, but sitting independently is not accomplished until 6 or 7 months of age. Standing also develops gradually across the first year of life. By about 8 months of age, infants usually learn to pull themselves up and hold on to a chair, and they often can stand alone by about 10 to 12 months of age.
Learning to Walk
Walking upright requires being able to stand up and balance position from one foot to the other. Although infants usually learn to walk about their first birthday, the neural pathways that control the leg alternation component of walking are in place from a very early age, possibly even at birth or before.  This is shown because 1 to 2 month olds are given support with their feet in contact with a motorized treadmill, they show well-coordinated, alternating steps. If it wasn’t for the problem of switching balance from one foot to the other, babies could walk earlier. Tests were performed on crawling and walking babies where slopes were placed in front of the path and the babies had to decide whether or not it was safe. The tests proved that babies who just learned how to walk did not know what they were capable of and often went down slopes that were not safe, whereas experienced walkers knew what they could do. Practice has a big part to do with teaching a child how to walk.
Development in the Second Year
In the second year of life, toddlers become more motorically skilled and mobile. They are no longer content with being in a playpen and want to move all over the place. Child development experts believe that motor activity during the second year is vital to the child’s competent development and that few restrictions, except for safety, should be placed on their motoric adventures. By 13 to 18 months, toddlers can move up and down steps and carry toys. By 18 to 24 months, toddlers can move quicker or run for a short distance along with other motor skills.
As a preschooler, the child does not need any help standing alone or moving quickly. At 3 years of age, children enjoy simple movements, such as hopping, jumping, and running back and forth, just for the sheer delight of performing these activities. At age 4, children continue to do the same actions as they did at age 3, but further their moving. They are beginning to be able to go down the stairs with one foot on each step. At 5 years of age, they become even more adventurous. During middle and late childhood, children’s motor development becomes much smoother and more coordinated than it was in early childhood. As they age, children become able to control over their bodies and have an increased attention span. Having a child in a sport can help them with their coordination, as well as some social aspects.
Adolescence and Adulthood
Gross motor skills usually continue improving during adolescence. The peak of physical performance is before 30, between 19 and 26. Even though athletes keep getting better than their predecessors–running faster, jumping higher, and lifting more weight–the age at which they reach their peak performance has remained virtually the same. After age 30, most functions begin to decline. Older adults move slower than younger adults. This can be moving from one place to another or continually moving. Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can slow this process. Aging individuals who are active and biologically healthy perform motor skills at a higher level than their less active, less healthy aging counterparts.