What is Motor Planning?
Could my child have Dyspraxia?
'Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), also known as Dyspraxia in the UK & Ireland, is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children & adults' - Dyspraxia/ DCD Ireland
'Praxis' is the medical term used to describe motor planning.
Motor planning refers to a 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 with lego, using a fork or cycling our bike etc.
It is generally thought to involve the following components:
- Ideation - Knowing what to do.
- Motor Planning - Knowing how to do it.
- Execution - Carrying it out in a smooth process.
The ability to organise and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar tasks is involved in many fine motor activities e.g. there is a complex sequence of steps when learning to tie shoe-laces.
Motor planning is important for developing 'motor memories' so we can recall quickly how to do things e.g. 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 spelling, punctuation, presentation etc.
Motor planning is challenged in the classroom each time a child is presented with a variation of a familiar motor task or with a new task. With this in mind,it is pretty obvious why children who have motor planning difficulties can a) be exhausted by the end of the school-day, b) need their movement breaks & c) benefit from visual breakdowns & reminders for the sequence of steps in new tasks.
When learning a skill like cutting with a scissors; children process & integrate a variety of sensory information so that they can plan & sequence each snip/cut in order to complete the tasks as accurate as possible. When teaching a skill like cutting, it is important that children have clever prompts and visuals to support their learning. When creating my motor skills program (Octobox) for school-aged kids, I decided to accompany each activity with an engaging demonstration video so I could show kids how to complete the activity in the right way but also break down the skill into manageable steps. Grading activities is an OT's speciality! Learn more about Octobox here.
Children with motor planning difficulties can struggle with completing these tasks accurately and in a timely manner as they may not know how to start or have a strategy for finishing the task. This can result in them rushing through the work or avoiding the task due to feelings of anxiety and frustration.
Developmentally, children learn how to motor plan through play where they explore the use of many objects, imitate others, complete tasks with lots of variations & develop creative ideas for different actions. Motor planning continues to develop as children get older & they are required to sequence several motor actions in new skills (e.g. cycling, driving, typing) or follow several directions in an unfamiliar task.
How Does Motor Planning Difficulties Affect a Child?
Motor planning difficulties can make initiating work very challenging.
The child may seem clumsy, accident prone and uncoordinated in their movements.
They may struggle to organise themselves or their belongings. So make it easier for kids by colour coding, limiting the amount of items and having designated places for things.
Tasks will often be carried out slowly without a clear plan e.g. organising their room, locker, school-bag, writing an essay, studying. Organisational skills can be taught, you definitely need patience & a very clear plan when teaching it to kids.
They may find it difficult to follow instructions especially multi-step instructions that are delivered in a fast pace. That's why visuals are so important!
Some kids may avoid P.E or team sports due to feeling uncoordinated. They may prefer less competitive exercise & sports. Rock-climbing can be a great one!
Learning new skills can be challenging such as dressing, letter formations etc. However, with the right support & scaffolding - kid's can do great!
Handwriting can be a challenge where it might be illegible, poorly presented & tiring. Assistive technology can be a great option as kids get older & there is research to suggest that children with motor planning difficulties do better with cursive script when writing.
If you are looking for more strategies, ideas & information on motor planning skills & Dyspraxia/DCD; I have engaging videos on My OT University that goes through it in more detail. Learn more by clicking here.
Activities to Develop Motor Planning
Fine Motor Activities
Tell stories using finger puppets. I think finger puppets are great for preschoolers to develop a variety of skills. I even included them in my Farmyard Preschool Pack which you can see by clicking here.
Pencil Control & Paper Activities e.g. Dot-to-dots, mazes, colouring, step-by-step drawings, tracing, tearing paper, origami etc. All of these activities are included in the Preschool Pack , School- Aged Octobox & The Free Resource Kit. Click on each of them to learn more.
Constructional activities like lego, building blocks or our Whizz Kid Projects including in Octobox!
Puzzles - jigsaws, peg-boards, puzzle games. I did some toy reviews on problem-solving puzzle games on the Free Resource Kit, that you might enjoy especially for older kids as it can be more challenging to find fine motor games that motivate them.
Threading & Sewing Activities
Action songs, clapping games & musical instruments.
Gross Motor Activities
I love doing animal walks & wheelbarrow walks with kids as they develop so many skills & are great fun. If you aren't sure what animal walks are; I have an image on the Free Resource Kit under the heading 'Sensory Processing & Movement Breaks'. You can access it here.
Ball & Balloon games e.g. keep the balloon up with your hands, keep it up with a bat or a cardboard roll, try and get the balloon into something or over something.
Obstacle courses are a brilliant way to challenge a child's motor planning as there can be several steps with familiar and unfamiliar movements included. Get creative with this & I always love an outdoor obstacle course! Include some army crawling, hopscotch, balancing on a plank, climbing over items & log rolling. You could also include action drills for older kids so they have to quickly change between movements at a quick pace.
Family Games like Simon Says, Twister, Card- Games, Magic Tricks, Boardgames, Musical Statues & Charades are great.
Other Activities: Gymnastics, Swimming, Taekwondo, Rock-Climbing, Tennis etc.
Hope you enjoyed this blog post. If you are looking for more strategies, tips & information, you can check out my video series by clicking here.
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CONTENT DISCLAIMER: Jessica Kennedy is a Certified Occupational Therapist. All information on the website is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for medical advice from your physician. Please consult with a medical professional if you suspect any medical or developmental issues with your child. Do not rely on the information on the website as an alternative to advice from your medical professional or healthcare provider. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment as a result of any information provided on the website. All medical information on the website is for informational purposes only. All activities outlined on the website are designed for completion with adult supervision. Please use your own judgment with your child and do not provide objects that could pose a choking hazard to young children. Never leave a child unattended during these activities. Please be aware of and follow all age recommendations on all products used in these activities. My OT & Me is not liable for any injury when replicating any of the activities found on this blog or website.