What is motor planning? Could my child have Dyspraxia?

What is motor planning? Could my child have Dyspraxia?



Motor planning refers to the child’s ability to organise, plan, and then carry out new or unfamiliar tasks. It is the first step in learning new skills and requires accurate information from all sensory systems of the body, and mature body awareness, perception of movement and awareness of space. It is the ability by which we figure out how we use our hands and body in skilled tasks like playing with toys, using a pencil, building a structure, using a fork, etc.


It is generally thought to involve the following components:

  1. Ideation - knowing what to do
  2. Motor Planning - planning a sequence of actions. i.e. knowing how to do it
  3. Execution - carrying out the planned sequence actions in a smooth process.


The ability to motor plan, that is organise and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar tasks is involved in many fine motor activities.  Motor planning is important for developing “motor memories” so we can recall quickly how a letter is formed. This automaticity with writing allows us to write on a subconscious level so we can devote our cognitive power to composing text, spelling, etc.  Motor planning abilities are challenged in the classroom each time a child is presented with a variation of a familiar motor task or with a new assignment.  When learning to write or cut with scissors, a child synthesises a variety of sensory information to plan and sequence each stroke or cut in order to successfully complete the task.  Children with a motor planning problem may have significant difficulty finishing their work on time as they do not have an idea of how to start or have a strategy for finishing the task.  Alternatively, they may rush through the task without being able to recognise the parts or steps of the task as they relate to the end product.  This results in messy, haphazard work.


Developmentally, children learn to motor plan as they are exposed to variations of familiar activities.  Through play, a child explores the use of many objects and develops creative ideas for a variety of actions.  Motor planning is developed when a child experiments with how parts relate to a whole in such toys as puzzles and simple take apart toys or models.  A child learns to imitate when they play games such as pat-a- cake, peek-a-boo and later games such as Simon Says and Follow the Leader.  Motor planning is further developed when a child is asked to sequence several motor actions in a new skill or several directions in an unfamiliar task.


Why is motor planning important?


Problems in motor planning skills may be seen in the child’s ability to organise and initiate work in the classroom. They may seem clumsy, accident prone and messy.

Poor organisation of pens, rubbers, etc. on desk

Tasks will often be carried out slowly without a clear plan or method  e.g. slow writing speed

The child may find it difficult to follow instructions. 

In PE and sporting activities, movements may be disorganised and uncoordinated.

The child is slow to implement verbal directions that involve sequencing and planning actions

Preparing for school and lessons may be difficult, the child forgetting to bring tools, etc.

The child may take a long time to learn new skills e.g. learning to write or cut with scissors

Written work will often be untidy with poor organisation and use of space on the page. 

Poor recall of letters and how they are formulated

Verbal cues and sub-vocalising are frequently needed when writing

There is a resistance to new writing assignments such as learning cursive

The child has difficulty learning correct letter formations

The child inconsistently forms letter, even for the same letter within a word or paragraph


Activities to Improve Motor Planning:


Fine Motor Activities:


Tell stories using finger and glove puppets.


Pencil and paper activities  e.g. Join the dots, pencil mazes, colouring within a stencil, tracing, copying, tearing pictures from magazines/newspaper


Constructional activities – following simple instructions


Puzzles - jigsaws / block puzzles / peg-board patterns


Threading activities using a variety of different materials  e.g. Buttons, macaroni, beads, etc.


Sewing tasks – cards / cardboard / weaving paper strips


Paper folding / origami


String games e.g. cats cradle / tying knots.


Action songs, clapping games


Learn to play a musical instrument e.g. Recorder


Woodworking with small hand tools


Gross Motor Activities:


Animal walks - child tries to imitate movements of a crab, frog, duck, kangaroo, penguin, elephant, worm, dog or any other funny walks you can think of.  Pretend to be a pirate, toy soldier, floppy doll.


Balloon games e.g.  - hit a balloon with roll of newspaper or hand between 2 or more people and try not to let it touch the ground / hold a balloon between your knees and jump along a line


Obstacle course - encouraging the child to sequence and plan several actions; e.g. go under the table, over the chairs, through the hoop, around the box, hop between 2 fixed points, etc.


Ball games

Throw a ball against a wall, clap your hands before catching it again.                     


Bounce a ball along a line, or into a hoop/ring


Kick a beach ball while lying on your back


Jumping patterns  e.g. hopscotch


Aerobic stepping




Simon Says, follow the leader




Statues i.e. The child runs, dances, skips, jumps around in time to music – when the music stops the children freeze in that position


Play activities that use the mouth area  e.g. Blowing soap bubbles, blowing cotton balls / ping pong balls across the table top, mirror game – pulling faces


Make shapes / letters / numbers with your whole body while lying on the carpet  (using cards as visual cues)


Reaction drill i.e. Ask the child to respond as quickly as possible to verbal directions:  “lie on your back”, left side, front, right side, stand on your feet, kneel, sit, etc. Change positions as quickly as possible.


Log rolling on the floor with arms by side or above head  (or alternate)


Walking relays e.g. backwards, tip toes, sideways or cross-legged, along a rope, on low walls, kerbs, cracks in the footpath, along a balance beam etc.


Riding a tricycle




Other Tips & Strategies

Help the child to identify the steps needed to begin and accomplish the task. Have them repeat directions and if possible, write down the steps.
Ask the child questions of what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.
Encourage the child to verbalise what they are doing while carrying out the activity.
Have a system for checking off steps as they are accomplished.
Give one direction at a time.
Help the child physically through tasks/actions. Demonstrate verbally and visually.
Minimise visual clutter/distractions.

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