Motor Skills

Motor planning

Poor sensory processing has an impact on the development of motor planning (also known as praxis). If a child is not receiving or processing sensory information correctly, this can impact on the fluidity and accuracy of their motor skills as well as the internal map of their body. 

Motor planning involves 3 steps:
  1. Having an idea
  2. Planning the motor movements
  3. Executing these movements
Children can have difficulties in one or all of the above areas.

Motor skills

Everyone has a library of ‘skills’ that can be performed without conscious awareness. A skill is something that initially requires motor planning and attention to learn. However, once it has become a skill, it no longer requires conscious attention or motor planning and is spontaneous. Since motor planning is the first step in learning skills, a child with praxis problems usually has a shortage of skills as they need to motor plan each task over and over again. Once a child with praxis difficulties does learn a skill, they can usually perform it quite well as long as the situation is familiar.

Body scheme

Both motor planning and motor skills require a perception of body scheme, and sensory inputs from the body must be organised into a clear picture of the body or ‘body scheme’. Body scheme allows us to know where they end and the rest of the world begins in order to accurately move through their environment, for example knowing whereabouts your hand is without looking.

Remember ‘PERFECT’ practice makes Perfect. If a child with sensory processing and motor planning difficulties learns an incorrect motor plan, it can take 10 times the repetitions to unlearn this. That is, if it takes 500 repetitions to learn a new skill, it takes approximately 5000 repetitions to unlearn a maladaptive skill (Kleim, 2004).

Common difficulties can include:

  • Complaining that a motor activities is ‘too hard’ or ‘I can’t do it’.
  • May avoid or lack motivation for PE or motor activities.
  • Frequent bumping into objects and furniture.
  • Difficulties manoeuvring effectively around the school environments.
  • Chooses sedentary activities during play times.
  • Can demonstrate frustration when completing tasks.
  • Poor self-esteem.
  • Difficulties with fine motor tasks including hand writing and scissor skills.
  • May demonstrate resistance to changes in how or when tasks are done as change presents new situations/tasks that require motor planning and new learning.

Ideas to help support Motor Skills in the classroom

Some children learn just by watching or doing but as with everything, not all children learn the same way or at the same pace. The following ideas can help with mastering motor activities.

  • Ensure the child knows their body parts.
  • Strengthen the core (the large central muscles) of the body to provide greater body and trunk stability.
  • Poor bilateral integration (two sides of the body working together) can impact on motor planning, so working to improve these first is helpful.
  • Break down the activity into steps with clear verbal or visual instructions.
  • Give the child time to practice and learn each step – repetition is essential for mastering motor skills.
  • Encourage the child to say out loud what they are doing when they are doing it.
  • Completing the movements with your hand over their hand, guiding them through the movement helps their body systems feel the movement.
  • Backward or forward chaining can be helpful. That is, the child completes the last or the first step in the activity and once mastered, gradually increases the steps they are doing.
  • Using a multi-sensory approach will ensure the best chance at learning appropriate strategies to respond to a physical demand or challenge.
  • Discuss with the child, what sports they are interested in. You can encourage interest in sport without playing it. Being a sports fan can encourage conversations with peers and help with social skills.
  • Fast moving team sports can be tricky, so trying a slower paced sport can be helpful e.g. swimming 
  • Identify with the child what is difficult and break down the activity into steps.
  • Is changing for PE difficult? Explore clothing modifications if this task is difficult e.g. elastic shorts or minimise fastenings if these are difficult. 
  • Children’s worries can be reduced by allowing extra time for getting changed and also allowing the child to practise on their own before joining the group.