Motor Skills Development Process

Development of motor skills falls under physical facet of developmental domains of childhood development and are charted as motor milestones for assessing a child’s development.

Skills to use the muscles are developed mainly during the early development phase of childhood, but the perfection of each skill is reached only after several months of practice. Thereby growing children develop the capabilities to function effectively and to perform day to day activities independently.

The sophisticated movements required to achieve cognitive skills development also need that a child has an optimal development of gross and fine motor movements .

The Process of motor development

Understanding the process of motor development sets realistic expectations of a child’s capabilities and achievements through various growing phases of childhood.

It reduces the stress in both, the parents and the children, and thereby boosts self confidence and self-esteem. Healthy self concept, that follows, helps child excel in all developmental domains

Sequence of Motor Development

  • Cephalocaudal: Head to trunk; trunk to hands and feet.

  • Proximodistal: Mid-line to extremities.

  • Gross to fine motor skills.

  • Stable posture and sensory input facilitate controlled and refined movements.

Factors affecting motor milestones development process

All the factors that affect physical domain of childhood development also affect children’s milestones of motor skills development:

Variables that affect motor milestones are divided into 2 broad categories:

Physical Needs of Child for Optimal Growth & Development
Psychological Needs for Optimal Childhood Growth & Development

With so many variables affecting the development of motor skills, it is only natural that the timing of accomplishment of each motor milestone varies with each child. However, the sequence in which the motor milestones are achieved always remain the same.

Types of motor development

There are two areas of motor development, which allow an infant to progress from being helpless and completely dependent baby to a child who has complete independent mobility.

  • Gross motor development involves the large muscles of the body used for locomotion and body posture maintenance.

  • Fine motor development involves the smaller muscle groups to perform tasks that are precise in nature

Gross motor development

Gross motor development gives children the ability to maintain thier posture, mobility and stability. Children are thus able to use large muscles of the whole body to perform activities such as required for outdoor games on a playground. 

This is brought about by the following changes.

  • Development of the muscle tone and power.

  • Primitive reflexes of newborns gradually disappear. 
    This gives the child more freedom of movement and capacity to balance.

  • Head control.

  • Achieving and maintaining sitting position. 
    A good posture supports the fine motor tasks like writing, drawing and playing musical instruments.

  • Ability to move from one place to other. 
    Approximately at the age of 9 months, children begin to crawl on all 4 limbs, and 10th month onward stand with support. 
    At the age of 12-15 months 90% of the children can walk around independently.

The gross motor control is important for major body movements such as walking, maintaining balance, coordination, jumping, and reaching.

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Good Hands-Eye-Coordination is Crucial for Optimal Development of Motor Skills

The fine motor development

The fine motor development is dependent on good hand to eye coordination:

Optimal vision is crucial to control the movements of the small muscles of hands and fingers.

The first step towards fine motor development is noticed at the age of 2-3 months, when a baby begins trying to reach a toy, but can only swipe at it somewhat inaccurately. 

By the age of 3-4 months eyeball movement are better controlled and thereby hand movements are also gradually get refined.

Development of fine motor skills empower children:

  • Ability to accomplish activities which require efficient use of hands and fingers (dexterity), like writing, holding a soon/fork/pencil, and dressing.

  • Bilateral coordination:

    a.) 4 month old child reaches a toy with both his hands.

    b.) 6 month old can transfer a toy from one hand to the other.

    c.) 16 month old can effectively use two hands differently to
         accomplish the desired task. For example: Stabilizes the paper
         with one hand and scribbles on the paper with the other hand.  
         Thereby the dominant side is established: Right or left handedness

  • Eyes-hand coordination to achieve a task like cutting, painting etc

  • Speech development
    Well coordinated movements of the tongue, lips, and jaw muscles are essential for proper articulation and speech production, which in turn facilitates language development.

On an average children at 6 can comfortably accomplish the tasks generally required for their day to day activities.

Nevertheless, learning is continuous process; and children continue to learn new and refine the learnt fine motor skills throughout their growing years.

Toys, games and puzzles help children improve the fine motor movements during early childhood.

Activities like drawing, painting, clay molding and building blocks help further to practice and enhance fine motor skills.

A small task given at home, like “match your shoes and keep them in place” helps in practical implementation of the newly acquired skill.

Should medical evaluation be considered for motor development delays?

  • At the age of 2 years, if a child fails to accomplish more than 2 fine motor skills, then seek medical consultation: The foundation of fine motor skills is laid down in first 2 years of life. 

  • If a child does not start walking by the age of 18 months neurologic evaluation should be considered: Motor skills development is compromised in children with brain injury. cerebral palsy and sensory systems compromise.

  • School related learning difficulties demand timely medical intervention: Gross motor abilities support physical functions; often noted in children with Dyspraxia, poor gross and/or fine motor skills development.

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