OT motor skills

During OT week, we are looking at how OT's can help children develop and succeed. One area where an OT can help your child is with developing their motor skills.

Motor skills are about movement. Gross motor skills are the ability to move our body, arms and legs while fine motor skills are the small precise movements of the hands and fingers.

Gross motor skills 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 throughout 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. These skills are important for movement during daily activities and also for providing a stable base for children to be able to perform fine motor activities such as writing.

Fine motor skills are 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.

Some children may show delays in developing fine 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.

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:

    • clap hands and 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
    • 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 toys

By 18 months toddlers can:

    • 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
    • climb steps and creep backwards down stairs
    • walk up and down steps holding one hand
    • kick and throw a ball
    • sit on a ride a push along toy
    • walk and rarely fall

By 2 years toddlers can:

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

By two and a half years of age children can:

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

At 3 years a child can:

  • 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
  • walk and run well
  • hop and balance on one foot,
  • pedal a tricycle well

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 children can:

  • move easily between sitting, standing and squatting
  • sit upright in a chair
  • jump over things
  • know left and right
  • 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

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:

  1. visit playgrounds for developing climbing, swinging, sliding and jumping
  2. outdoor play for running, jumping, hopping, skipping
  3. ball play for throwing, kicking, bouncing, rolling
  4. play skittles or bowling,
  5. throw balls at targets, through hoops, into boxes or baskets
  6. put a ball into a stocking and hang it on the clothes line and hit it with a hand, bat or rolled up newspaper
  7. outdoor games such as chasey and follow the leader
  8. pushing, pulling and carrying such as with wheelbarrows and buckets of water
  9. bike riding and scooters
  10. balancing on planks, bricks, tyres, rope or masking tape lines on the floor
  11. go for a walk, run, skip, hop
  12. explore a local park, walk up a hill and roll down
  13. play hide and seek
  14. go to the beach and walk, run, swim and dig
  15. visit a play cafe
  16. organised activities such as kinder gym, swimming, dancing and sports
  17. playing with balloons, kicking, punching in the air, keeping the balloon from touching the ground
  18. make an obstacle course in the backyard
  19. make a trail of stepping stones to balance on
  20. bounce on a trampoline outside or a mini-tramp inside
  21. put on some music and do some dancing
  22. borrow or buy a kid’s yoga DVD and try some moves
  23. do some stretches with a gym band
  24. play with a giant gym ball
  25. throw some water balloons

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:

  1. provide opportunities for craft activities such as painting, cutting and pasting, collage and stickers
  2. provide toys which require fine movements such as building and construction sets, Lego, puzzles and threading beads
  3. 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
  4. provide games such as connect four, barrel of monkeys and jenga
  5. play with tweezers, eye droppers and squeeze bottles
  6. play with play dough, plasticine, putty and gloop
  7. do some cooking together, cut, roll, mix, stir and pour
  8. play with pipe cleaners, and pegs
  9. play with sand and water, dig, pour and build
  10. provide a range of drawing activities such as textas and paper, chalk and blackboards, whiteboards and markers, paint or brushes and water outside.

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

Occupational therapists can assess the underlying skills a child needs for handwriting and work out any areas where a child needs extra support. They can then provide activities specifically targeted at the child’s needs and make recommendations about any special equipment that may help. For more information about how an occupational therapist can help your child click here.

Our website https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/has lots of occupational therapy information sheets to download on motor skills, sensory integration and daily living skills. There are also lots of great activity ideas on the Talking Matters Pinterest page.

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