Motor development and learning in children

“Have you ever wondered how babies develop motor skills or why they sit before they walk, or why they often fall over, or why they cannot grasp or let go of toys? …

Changes in movement behaviour can be thought of as progressing through three phases, each with distinct underlying processes. These phases are the sensory-motor, the perceptual-motor and the cognitive-motor phase.” (146)

Sensory-motor phase

“Children need sensory feedback from their bodies and their environment to acquire basic control of their bodies. Sensory-motor information is used and enhanced by children when they learn to sit, crawl and to control their balance. These skills represent basic control of movement and form the building blocks for locomotor and manipulative sequences of movement. To achieve these skills children rely on early reflex behaviour, internal and external sensory information and early movement patterns.” (147)

Perceptual-motor phase

“Children and animals reach the perceptual-motor phase of development when they are able to consciously (cognitively) control their limbs, their balance and hand/eye or hand/paw coordination. Puppies seem to have a problem going down stairs and if they do, they certainly cannot control the speed of their descent so they often end up on some part of their body other than their paws. Such behaviour demonstrates that they have not achieved good perceptual-motor control over their movements.

Children in this perceptual-motor phase acquire sufficient knowledge and experience in movement situations to have developed body awareness, including the conscious (cognitive) internal awareness that the body has two sides (left and right) and that it can be moved in different [-p.149] directions such as up, down, sideways, forwards and backwards. Children also develop spatial awareness in relation to their own bodies and to external objects. Moreover, they become more competent at visual-spatial awareness, thus enabling judgements to be made about speed and direction of moving objects and accurate manipulation of tools. Changes in the fundamental movement patterns also occur in this second phase because there is greater control of the limbs and postural stability as well as early control of the visual-spatial parameters of movement.

Cognitive-motor phase

When a cat can leap effortlessly onto a kitchen bench, a dog can go downstairs at a constant speed, or a young child learns how to play tennis, all of them are demonstrating that they have relatively advanced control over their movements. This third phase of motor development is demonstrated behaviourally by the acquisition of more complex movement skills. These involve the processing of relevant external environmental information, as well as controlling the spatial and temporal aspects of the response. Cognitive processes are used increasingly by children in their sport and recreational activities. For example, in order to intercept a moving ball children need to process complex visual information while at the same time achieving precise body control.

These three levels of motor control enable us to conceptualise that some different underlying processes are more important than others as we learn movement skills. The assumption is that there is a hierarchical progression from very elementary control over the body and its movements. Then children are able to combine many sources of sensory information and perform movement skills such as the fundamental movement patterns of walking, running, jumping, throwing and catching. Finally, they achieve advanced cognitive control over limb movements, and the [-p.150] spatial-temporal aspects of complex movements and sports and skills.” (pp.147-150 (picture on p.148))

Ref: Carolyn O’Brien (1994) ‘Motor development and learning in children’ pp.146+ in The Early Years; development, learning and teaching, Eds Gillian Boulton-Lewis and Di Catherwood. The Australian Council for Educational Research: Victoria, Australia.


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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