motor skills

Developing Motor Skills - helping your child to develop the motor skills needed for everyday activities

NHS Grampian

Motor Skills is the term often used to describe the co-ordinated movements needed for everyday activities and learning.

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Who these pages are for

The following pages have been written by the occupational therapy staff in Combined Child Health, NHS Grampian for families, carers, people who work with children and of course the children themselves, to help to develop a range of skills that they will need in everyday life as they grow up.

Paediatric (children's) Occupational Therapists are concerned with occupational performance, i.e. enabling the child (and family) to engage more successfully in activities of daily life.  For children, this may mean playing, socialising and making the most of school, as much as being able to brush their own teeth or hold a pencil.

In Aberdeenshire paediatric occupational therapy services are provided by therapists based at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, Raeden Centre and Child Development Teams in various localities in the area.  For further information please download our department leaflet. 

What is in these pages

Most children develop their skills within their family group without any specific professional help beyond that available to them within playgroups, educational settings and community groups. 

The ideas on the Information sheets cover different activities like hand skills or fine motor skills, gross motor skills or big movements and using the two sides of the body together.  These are helpful to develop the ability to learn more efficiently and carry our daily living activities.  They are designed to give general ideas to develop motor skills, whether they are specific worries or not. 

Most families can do these activities and games without much cost, other than time. It is best if they can become part of everyday family life. The best learning and development of skills takes place when we are relaxed, engaged, encouraged, in a positive environment and most of all having fun!

The downloadable information sheets cover a variety of topics related to the development of motor skills and everyday self care skills.

They are not in order and you can pick and choose topics that interest you. We would suggest that before most children are ready to tackle the ‘fiddly’ things in life like managing buttons and zips or using pencils and scissors, they need to have good control over their bigger movements (or gross motor skills) and balance. This may be where you need to start. If within one topic your child can do all the things suggested then perhaps look at another area for suggestions to refine other skills. 

These activities are not ‘occupational therapy’ but everyday playful ideas that will help any child develop their skills. You should be aware whether activities are suitable and whether you and your child are capable of doing them. If you have any doubts about your child’s or your own fitness/safety to do the activities, you should not undertake them.

Why these pages were developed

Some children have more difficulty mastering everyday activities and need a little more help. This help does not always need to come from a professional, but can be provided by families if they have a few ideas to help them along the way. These pages are designed to give you some ideas and ways to help. We hope these suggestions will give you a starting point from which you and your child will benefit and enjoy. 

It is important to let your child experiment during play, although this must be within safe limits. We can overprotect our children, so we should try to allow them to develop their independence whilst keeping a watchful eye from a safe distance, or letting them play in a safe environment for a short while without direct supervision. You know your child best, what suits them and what is safe and comfortable for you as a family. This will be different for every child and family. 

Who to contact if you are still worried

If you are worried about your child's skills you should talk to your health visitor, playgroup leader, nursery or school teacher to see if they share your worries. They may be able to ease your concerns, give you other ideas or help you to decide what to do next.

If after you have spoken to someone and have tried out some of the activities you continue to have concerns about your child’s development of skills you should share them again with your health visitor, playgroup leader, nursery or school teacher or general practitioner (GP).

Very few children need specific help from an occupational therapist.  If you are still concerned after having worked through some activities with your child, you can ask your general practitioner or school doctor if they feel occupational therapy would be helpful for your child.

If you are waiting to see an occupational therapist you could start to do some of the activities on the information sheets whilst you wait. Your health visitor, playgroup leader, nursery or school teacher, GP or school doctor may be able to help you decide what activities to try.

Advice and tips on getting started

Whichever activities you decide to do with your child it is helpful to remember:

  • Short sessions throughout the week are better than one long one and easier to fit around other family activities, for example 20 minutes 3 times a week instead of 1 hour once a week
  • Do not overload your child with lots of activities all at one time
  • Stop, simplify or find another activity if your child is not coping or enjoying the activities
  • Watch out if brothers and sisters are much better or very competitive and think about changing the game or making it an individual one
  • Give the child some choice as they will be more likely to participate
  • Activities should be fun, presented as games and involve the whole family where possible

You do not need to spend lots of money to help your child develop skills.  Involve them in activities around the house, going to the park, beach or forest walks. This will give them the opportunity to practice and learn new skills. You can incorporate lots of the activities shown into everyday life. Take advantage of holiday times and weekends when there may be more time and perhaps the whole family is under less pressure.

Children also benefit from lots of other experiences, including kinder gym, craft clubs, swimming, archery, martial arts, yoga, horse riding, children's play centres and social clubs. Your local community centre run lots of different activities and groups for children to join, for example, music makers, clown skills, craft sessions and sports tasters.