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What are Motor Skills? And How Do We Use Them In Everyday Life?

For most of us—motor skills aren’t something we have to think too much about. We need to accomplish something physical, and we simply execute the necessary movements to complete our desired action. Sounds easy, right?

Think again.

When you take a closer look at the intricate, coordinated movements that fill up our daily lives—it’s kind of amazing we’re able to accomplish SO MUCH, with such relative ease.

If you’ve ever experienced an issue that impacted your mobility—you know exactly what I mean.

Even a small injury or ailment can seriously impact your ability to perform the motor movements needed with the subconscious fluidity you’re accustomed to.

If you’ve never experienced something like this firsthand, just ask someone who suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis how aware they are of all the little movements that go into everyday tasks.

Typically-developing people begin acquiring motor skills in infancy. Our motor skills are how we explore and interact with the world. For babies and toddlers, the major milestones of rolling over, sitting up, standing, and walking are all important motor skill developmental milestones.

As therapists in the school setting, we work with children who struggle to learn and master the important motor skills to independently complete their necessary activities of daily living.

For these kids, acquiring motor skills is something they need assistance to achieve. Without treatment, they may be unable to fully function and participate in everyday life. Their motor issues may impact their ability to attend school, or engage in the social and physical activities enjoyed by their same-aged peers.

We love helping children address and overcome issues with motor skills, planning, and coordination.

Let’s dive deeper into the different categories of motor skills, how we use them, and why they’re important. We’ll also look at the support and assistance available if your child struggles with their motor skills.

What are the different types of motor skills?

You may already be aware that motor skills are divided into two main categories. These are—gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Let’s examine the difference between these, as well as some important skills that fall into each camp.

Gross motor skills are those involving large muscle groups (like those engaging your arms, legs and torso). You can think of these as your whole-body movements. They include actions like jumping, running, and all types of physical activities like sports.

Typically, our gross motor skill development begins in infancy and continues to improve and become more refined (including tasks like riding a bike and catching a ball) throughout our childhood and teenage years.

Like most progressive skills, our gross motor skill abilities develop along a continuum with general age milestones established but with normal variations between individuals expected.

If you’ve ever seen same-aged kids on the playground—you’ll notice these variations. Some kids will be monkey-bar masters, whereas others will feel timid with this station but may be super on the slide, or walk the balance beam without missing a beat. All these kids may be typically-developing in their gross motor skills—it’s just that some master certain skills first, while others click with different challenges.

Kids may also experience phases of clumsiness in their gross motor skill development, especially when they’re going through a growth spurt. It can be tough to perform physical tasks when you don’t have a great sense of where your body begins and ends.

If you have concerns about your child’s gross motor skill development, you can always reach out to their health care provider, teacher, or directly to usyour trusted team of therapy professionals.

Our gross motor skills are closely linked to other important abilities. These include—

  • Balance

  • Coordination

  • Physical strength

  • Reaction time

  • Proprioception (a fancy term meaning our awareness of where our body is in space)

Once you realize how our gross motor skills are closely tied to these crucial capabilities, it’s easy to see the big impact they have on all aspects of our daily lives.

For children in the school setting, gross motor skills are needed to complete many daily tasks, like playing on the playground, lining up, raising a hand to answer a question, participating in PE, walking to and from class, and sitting upright at a desk.

Fine motor skills, in contrast, involve the intricate movements of smaller muscle groups, especially those in our wrists and hands.

These skills involve a lot of small, complex, coordinated movements, as well as open lines of communication between the muscles being used and the brain. Our fine motor skills are built upon and supported by our gross motor skills.

Fine motor skills are involved in important daily tasks like—

  • Brushing our teeth

  • Combing our hair

  • Getting dressed

  • Writing

  • Tying shoes

  • Using a keyboard

  • Eating and drinking (and using the necessary utensils)

For kids in the school setting, fine motor skills are also needed for activities like—

  • Using scissors

  • Drawing

  • Playing an instrument

  • Holding and using a writing utensil

  • Typing

  • Using a ruler

  • Using a calculator, computer, or tablet

  • Playing on the playground

  • Participating in classroom games and activities

It’s easy to see how crucially important the development and use of our gross and fine motor skills are in our everyday lives. For students in the school system, these skills are key components of a robust, well-rounded educational experience.

But there’s another component of our motor skills that’s necessary for them to be used effectively. Let’s take a look at motor planning skills and how they bring everything together.

What is motor planning and why is it important?

Having motor skills is great—but we also need to know what to do with them in order to fully function in our daily lives.

Motor planning involves our ability to remember and perform the necessary movements to complete physical tasks on a daily basis.

Motor planning is what we actually DO with the motor skills we possess.

It involves not only recalling what movements need to be made and in what order—it’s also what we rely on to execute these movements.

Motor planning is the secret ingredient that brings our motor skills together and puts them to work. It also helps if any corrections or adjustments need to be made on the fly.

For most typically-developing folks—we tend to take our motor planning skills for granted. That’s because they work so fast and behind-the-scenes that we barely notice they’re there. Especially for tasks you’ve done years and years—like brushing your teeth, washing your hands, or getting dressed—you’re so used to these motor sequences that they feel almost automatic.

But at some point in your life, someone had to teach you how to perform all of these tasks. And then you practiced doing them for yourself—slowly and repeatedly—until they clicked for you.

Your motor planning system is to thank for this feeling of automaticity in many of your daily tasks. With practice, it learned and remembered these coordinated sequences.

So now, when you’re brushing your teeth, you can focus your attention on watching your favorite Youtube or TikTok clips and not so much on what order to do things, where to put your hands, or how to grip and move your toothbrush.

For some, however, motor planning skills are difficult to master. They don’t easily become automatic and can’t be performed without slow, deliberate effort, if at all. Let’s take a look at what happens when a child struggles with their motor skills—and what can be done to help.

What happens when a child struggles with their motor skills?

A child who struggles with their motor skills can experience frequent disruptions to their daily life, and decreased ability to be independent with their activities of daily living.

Children who have issues with their motor planning skills struggle to remember common tasks and perform them quickly and automatically.

They may have to repeatedly be shown how to perform a basic daily sequence, and may still fail to recall and recreate this sequence the next time they perform it. Can you imagine how frustrating that must be?

Thankfully—there is help available for these children. An Occupational Therapist can work with them to help improve their motor planning skills and assist them in compensating for any deficits. Here at The Loop, our excellent Occupational Therapists are skilled at assessing and treating children with a variety of motor skill issues and disorders.

If your child is experiencing difficulty with their motor skills or motor planning, an Occupational Therapist can perform an evaluation to better understand the nature and severity of the issue, as well as create a plan for treatment.

Our Occupational Therapists are well-versed at creating individualized treatment plans for children who struggle with mastering their motor skill development and coordination. We offer treatment right in your child’s school—and will work closely with both you and your child’s teacher, to ensure our treatment is truly meeting your child’s unique needs, across all settings.

You can reach out to us directly via our website, or through your child’s teacher. In order to meet you and learn more about your questions and needs, we’ll set up an initial meeting via phone or video conference.

If you decide to move forward with an evaluation, we’ll work with your child’s teacher to find the best time to conduct a robust assessment of your child and their needs. Our evaluations may take place in one session or a few sessions.

Once our assessment is completed, we’ll find a time to meet with you and your child’s educational support team to review our results, make recommendations, and discuss our treatment plan, timeline, and goals.

Then, it’s time to get started with treatment. Our Occupational Therapists are skilled at creating specialized treatment plans that target your child’s individual needs in a way they’ll find fun and engaging. We believe our therapy should be fun as well as beneficial. Our goal is for the children we work with to enjoy their time in therapy.

If you’re concerned your child may be experiencing difficulties with their motor skill development—reach out! Even if we determine the issues you’re noticing in your child stem from another cause, we believe it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Early identification and intervention for any issues impacting a child’s development are vitally important in their outcomes in therapy.

Plus, our educational system moves pretty fast—putting some children at risk to slip through the cracks in the system and begin to fall behind their same-aged peers. And we don’t want that for your child or for you.

If you have any questions or need our help—let us know! You can contact us through our website, connect with us on social media @TheLoopSLL, or email us at We’re here for you!

P.S. Did you know—The Loop is your one-stop-shop for all things therapy! In addition to our stellar speech, language, and occupational therapy services, we also offer educational support services of all kinds! This includes—learning remediation, executive function coaching, and even educational consultancy and advocacy. Check out our website for info on these, plus access to tons of free resources and materials!

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