(Written for SDP’s website)
Contrary to popular perception that physical development refers simply to the physical growth of a child, this important area of development actually refers to the development of physical skills. In this write-up, I wish to focus mainly on the development of motor skills.
What do we mean by motor skills?
This is the ability to make purposeful movements with the utilization of the necessary skeletal muscles that are required to accomplish a task. Motor skills generally involve the proper functioning and co-ordination of the brain, skeleton, joints and nervous systems. The development of most motor skills occurs in early childhood and can be divided into gross motor skills and fine motor skills.
Gross motor skills
Gross motor skills are acquired during infancy and up to early childhood. Children at the age of two are normally able to stand up, walk and run. As the child grows, these skills involving the use of large muscle groups, will improve as he learns how to better control his movement.
Tables outlining the normal age-stage of gross motor development, such as when a child should begin crawling or running, should be used only as a loose guide. This is because every child develops differently, depending on their social and physical environment.
There are many things that can be done to aid a child’s development of gross motor skills such as walking on the balancing beam, crawling through tunnels, kicking a ball about and climbing onto child sized chairs and tables, and so on. The child will eventually learn how to move forward, shift and balance his body weight as well as learn the possible functions of his upper and lower limbs.
Be watchful but don’t stop a child from repeating particular activities even if she fails, and falls, at the first try. Encourage the child to try again. This will in turn build up the child’s confidence besides the intended gross motor skill(s).
Fine motor skills
This refers mainly to the co-ordination of small muscle movements usually occurring in the hands and fingers, in co-ordination with the sensory organs like the eyes and the ears. The development of fine motor skills is important for the development of other skills such as writing, cutting, basic self- help skills and so on.
During a child’s infant and toddler years, basic grasping and manipulation skills are usually developed. By the age of three, a child can create objects with wooden blocks and play dough as well as scribble with crayons. Some children from this age group can even insert objects into matching spaces.
It is also at this point of time that most children will tend to show preference of using one hand over the other. There are many debates over whether a child showing signs of left-handedness should be corrected but, personally, I don’t believe that that is necessary.
Attempts to manipulate simple tools such as pencils, zippers, snap buttons, scissors and spoons to complete specific tasks will emerge between the ages of three to four. At this stage, it is good that parents allow and guide their children to use such tools with patience and not dismiss them as slow and end up doing everything for them.
Activities such as dough play, threading wooden beads, tracing, scooping, sorting and matching, cutting, painting, tearing and folding are activities that can help to improve a child’s fine motor skills.
I have seen many parents stop their children from activities like dough play because of the ‘dirt’ and mess created. Such activities are important for the child’s motor development. Besides, it will be a good opportunity to teach children to clean up and pack away. Excuses will not help a child, only patience will.
Many parents may want to push their children to read and write instead of running about outdoor. Many do not have the patience to wait for their children to finish simple tasks like self-feeding and putting on their own shoes, resulting in them waiting on their children from head to toe in the name of speed.
Without being able to mold a ball of play dough into simple forms, how can the finger muscles learn to hold a pencil, not to mention writing a word? Without learning how to scoop and direct the hand to move the spoon into the mouth, how can a child learn to eat?
If you love your children, let them have the time and space to grow. Let them play as children play and let them learn the way they should learn.
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