Motor planning activities develop coordination and sequencing skills
What is Motor Planning?
Motor planning is defined as the ability to organise the body’s actions—knowing what steps to take and in what order—to be able to complete a particular task.
For example, to climb from one side of a climbing frame to another, a child must think about where to start first, where to place each foot and each hand and in what order.
Difficulty in motor planning is known as dyspraxia. Children with dyspraxia usually have normal muscle tone and strength, but struggle with the planning and coordination necessary to use their muscles successfully to execute a task.
Motor planning together with a good understanding of body and spatial awareness is required if children are going to learn how to safely overcome physical obstacles and challenges.
As adults we barely need to think about what to do, it just comes naturally. But for children this skill needs to develop gradually from a very young age.
We can help our children learn motor planning by providing them with tasks where they are challenged to think about how they can manoeuvre their limbs and body to achieve the given task.
How does Motor Planning Develop?
This whole process develops as a child grows, matures physically and starts to reach physical milestones such as crawling, walking, running and jumping.
The more often a child is exposed to movement opportunities, the sooner their motor planning will develop.
Here are some ways to encourage movement and motor planning at different ages:
Once your baby is comfortable with being on the tummy and can comfortably lift head and legs off the floor for longer periods of time, it is then a good time to start encouraging your baby to reach for a loved toy or small object.
Do this by placing a ball or favourite toy in a position that requires a reach. Start with just 10 to 20 cm (4 to 8 inches) out of reach and then increase the distance as your baby successfully touches the object. Place yourself behind the chosen object and call your child’s name. Verbally encourage them to move their little body forward. Do this just two or three times at one go.
Although it takes time, a child will naturally work out a way to reach the object. However, before trying this a child needs to have had the opportunity to be on their tummy a great deal, as this strengthens the core. Without this initial core strength development a child will struggle to learn to slide, shuffle or crawl.
The more a baby is inspired to move towards a loved object, the sooner their minds will start to practice motor planning. As the core strength as well as arm and leg strength develops, this will lead to crawling and then to walking.
Toddlers: 1 – 3 years
Environments where toddlers need to crawl or climb over, through and around obstacles is perfect for learning motor planning!
Tunnels, stepping stones, age appropriate movement parks and climbing frames all provide a wide variety of movement opportunities. However, when your child is at a difficult place and is unsure how to move forward, allow time for your child to think. If they still struggle, do suggest where a hand or foot can be placed to get them started and let them move forward from there.
At this age children get easily frustrated if they cannot reach or get to where they want to be. Instead of lifting your child up and over the obstacle or whatever the challenge is, rather gently support them through the challenging area by holding them while they climb to the next place. Or, stand very close and give suggestions as to how they can continue. Children have to know you believe in them before they can believe in themselves.
Early Learners 3 – 5 years
By this age children’s motor skills are developing at a rapid rate, especially if given the inspiration and opportunity to explore a wide variety of movement activities. This is a good age to visit different playgrounds with different play equipment, each providing various opportunities to move.
Don’t just sit on the bench at the playground. Be involved with your child’s “play”. Inspire your children to climb, to slide, move from one place to another and to explore different ways of going down a slide. Encourage them to overcome those challenging places, such as sliding down the fireman’s pole.
Play throw and catch, challenge your children to walk on walls and to jump over and off of objects. All movement activities require motor planning. The more your children explore different ways of moving and the more they use different hand-held equipment, the more agile, competent and confident they will become.
It is the responsibility of the adult to provide movement opportunities, and if you join in the fun, your children will be even more eager to play and move. By helping your children to become happy, healthy and competent movers, you are ensuring their overall wellbeing. The cherry on the top is that active babies become smart children!
P.S.: I am happy to have a free call with you to discuss your movement needs. Whether it be about your curriculum goals, resources, equipment or just general class management for movement lessons. I will gladly assist however I can.
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