OT helps kids move!

As we begin OT week 2015 we will look at how kids develop motor skills and how OTs can help kids who find movement challenging. Motor skills are divided into two areas, gross motor skills, which includes large body movements and fine motor skills which involve small movements such as with hands or fingers. Both fine and gross motor skills are important for kids to succeed in daily activities and schooling.

Gross motor skills are important as they provide the balance, control and stability needed for the development of fine motor skills which are vital for success at school. They also provide the skills needed to develop ball skills, sporting skills and other skills such as bike riding which are important for social interaction and physical fitness.

Gross motor skills are the ability to move our body, arms and legs and they begin to develop before birth as the baby moves about in the womb. After birth these skills develop into the ability to roll, sit, crawl and walk, then run, jump and balance. These skills develop though out life and are dependent on the opportunities a child experiences to develop and practice these skills, with each skill building on the one before and preparing the child for the next challenge.

Fine motor skills are also important for success at home, preschool and school. Fine motor skills refer to the ability to do purposeful and coordinated actions using controlled movements of the small muscles in the fingers and hands. The movements also need to coordinate with the eyes, for eye hand coordination and the larger muscles of the arms and body for stability. Children develop fine motor skills over time as they practice using their hands to do tasks and activities.

Fine motor skills are important because they are required for many daily activities:

  • at home, such as dressing, eating and grooming,
  • at preschool and school such as writing, drawing, cutting
  • for using tools such as pencils, scissors, brushes, cutlery, laces
  • for using toys to develop play,learning and imagination

Some children may show delays in developing motor skills. Difficulties in developing these skills can be related to:

  • physical disabilities
  • developmental delay
  • cognitive or intellectual delays
  • sensory difficulties
  • lack of motivation, opportunity, practice or interest in fine motor activities
  • reduced hand strength
  • reduced attention and concentration abilities
  • reduced problem solving abilities
  • difficulty controlling, planning, sequencing and coordinating movements

So how do I know if my child is developing skills as expected for their age? Children develop skills progressively but they have spurts of development and periods where skills are consolidated and not much seems to be changing. This is a normal part of development. If you are concerned that you child is not developing as expected it is a good idea to get some advice from a trained professional such as an OT.

The following is a rough guide to the typical development of motor skills in young children:

At 8 months babies can:

  • sit without support
  • move from tummy to sitting
  • kneel on hands and knees and rock back and forth

At 9 to 11 months babies can:

  • begin to crawl
  • pull up on furniture to standing
  • move from standing to sitting
  • sit for extended periods of time

At 12 to 14 months babies can:

  • cruise around furniture holding on
  • begin to walk independently
  • climb into a small chair
  • pick up things off the floor
  • squat to play with toys
  • play with push & pull toy
  • clap hands
  • point with a finger
  • move objects from hand to hand
  • reach with a straight elbow
  • hold objects between a finger and thumb
  • pick up small items with the tip of a finger and thumb
  • put objects into a container

By 18 months toddlers can:

  • climb steps
  • creep backwards down stairs
  • kick and throw a ball
  • sit on a ride a push along toy
  • walk and rarely fall
  • walk up and down steps holding one hand
  • stack two or three blocks
  • scribble with a crayon
  • turn pages in a cardboard book a few at a time
  • hold an object in one hand and do something to it with the other
  • put large pegs in a pegboard
  • put one to two shapes in a shape sorter

At 20 months toddlers can:

  • bend over and look between their legs
  • climb into an adult chair
  • carry toys when walking

By 2 years toddlers can:

  • go up and down stairs with railings
  • jump on the spot
  • jump off a step
  • run well
  • begin to pedal a tricycle
  • snip with scissors
  • stack three or more blocks
  • string a few large beads
  • copy circles and vertical lines
  • turn pages one at a time

By two and a half years of age children can:

  • stand on one foot
  • climb stairs with alternating feet
  • walk on tip toes

By three years children can:

  • walk and run well
  • hop on one foot,
  • pedal a tricycle well
  • balance on one foot
  • unscrew lids
  • hold crayons with fingers, not fists
  • cut paper in half
  • use one hand consistently most of the time
  • copy simple patterns with blocks

By four years children can:

  • walk on a narrow board
  • skip on alternating feet
  • balance on one foot for 10 seconds
  • catch a large ball
  • copy circles and crosses
  • stack five or more blocks
  • make balls, roll snakes and pinch shapes with playdough

By five years to six years children can:

  • move easily between sitting, standing and squatting
  • sit upright in a chair
  • jump over things
  • know left and right
  • hit a ball with a bat
  • begin to ride a bicycle
  • kick a ball from a running start
  • copy a square and triangle
  • use a tripod grasp with thumb and finger for pencils
  • button and unbutton a single button
  • cut along a line
  • stack many small blocks
  • colour inside the lines
  • write their first name
  • be consistently left or right handed

So how can parents encourage the development of gross motor skills? Skills develop through practice and repetition. Kids are more likely to repeat activities that are fun and where they feel supported, encouraged and successful. Focus on having a go rather than reaching perfection. Offer a variety of fun activities and follow your child's interests. Break trickier tasks down into smaller steps and allow plenty of rest breaks when needed. Remember that children develop at different rates, gently encourage but and don't push children to do things if they do not feel ready.

Here are some ideas for developing gross motor skills:

  • visit playgrounds for developing climbing, swinging, sliding and jumping
  • outdoor play for running, jumping, hopping, skipping
  • ball play for throwing, kicking, bouncing, rolling
  • skittles or bowling
  • throwing at targets, through hoops, into boxes or baskets
  • put a ball into a stocking, hang it on the clothes line and hit it with a hand or bat
  • outdoor games such as chasey and follow the leader
  • pushing, pulling and carrying with wheelbarrows and buckets of water
  • bike riding and scooters
  • balancing on planks, bricks, tyres, rope or masking tape lines
  • go for a walk, run, skip, hop
  • explore a local park, walk up a hill and roll down
  • play hide and seek
  • go to the beach and walk, run, swim and dig
  • visit a play cafe
  • organised activities such as kinder gym, swimming, dancing and sports
  • playing with balloons, kicking, punching in the air, keeping the balloon form touching the ground

Children develop fine motor skills through practice with a range of activities, tools and materials. Providing your child with a range of age appropriate opportunities will allow them to develop their skills. Here are some ideas to try:

  • provide opportunities for craft activities such as painting, cutting and pasting, drawing, collage and stickers
  • provide toys which require fine movements such as building and construction sets, Lego, puzzles and threading beads
  • provide activities which require aiming at a target, such as throwing bean bags or rolled up socks into a container, balls at a target drawn on a wall or through a hoop
  • provide games such as connect four, barrel of monkeys and Jenga
  • play with tweezers, eye droppers and squeeze bottles
  • play with play dough, plasticine, putty and gloop
  • do some cooking together, cut, roll, mix, stir and pour
  • play with pipe cleaners, and pegs
  • play with sand and water, dig, pour and build

Remember to make sure your activities are safe and suitable for your child's age and always supervise your child.

If you are concerned about your child's motor skills an occupational therapist is the person to see for advice. An occupational therapist can assess your child's skills and advise you on what to do to help your child's development. For more information about occupational therapy check Our website. There are also lots of great activity ideas on the Talking Matters Pinterest page.

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