Motor Planning: Poor Motor Planning Leads to Lack of Confidence in the Classroom
This article provides helpful information for improving your child’s motor planning. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
As adults, motor planning is something that we often take for granted because for the most part, we have been immersed in an environment of learning that usually begins with learning one thing and then moving on to another. For example, if we want to throw a Frisbee, we just throw the Frisbee without worrying or overthinking. Our brain has learned, over time, how to communicate with our muscles and tell them what to do. This is motor planning.
What is Motor Planning?
- To ideate, or conceptualize, an unfamiliar and complicated action, involving several steps.
- To organize one’s body to carry out the motor plan, and
- To execute, or carry out, the plan, or at least makes some progress.”
More simplified, motor planning is your brain and muscles working together to plan for movement. Motor planning helps us with every task that we do. It is required for the development of both fine and gross motor skills. Tasks that we accomplish daily, such as cook dinner, rake leaves, open a letter, turn on the hose, or sweep the floor, all involve motor planning. No one is born knowing how to motor plan. It is something we learn over time as we practice new tasks (for example, putting a coat on, brushing our teeth, or skipping). We teach our brain to communicate with our muscles and we slowly add more complicated tasks until this process becomes natural.
“Mastering one motor skill leads to trying another that is more challenging. The more the child does, the more she can do. For instance, after gaining confidence of a jungle gym, a child may use her skills to climb a tree or hang upside down from a monkey bar. This is an example of adaptive behavior.” (The Out of Sync Child)
Poor Motor Planning
So what happens when a child cannot motor plan? Their body and brain can’t communicate so the body can’t do what it needs to do to complete a task.
Motor planning surprisingly affects your child’s learning ability in the classroom. If your child has trouble with basic motor skills, for example, poor posture, it could prevent them from viewing the chalkboard from their desk or copying notes from the teacher. Poor motor planning can also cause your child to fidget at their desk or they may lack attention and focus.
A place that you can see a stark difference between a child who struggles with motor planning and a child who does not is on the playground. A child that motor plans well will run to the playground and instantly climb on the monkey bars with total confidence while the child who has poor motor planning is unable to move very far due to their lack of confidence in their ability to do a simple tasks like climb the stairs to get to the monkey bars, let alone the monkey bars themselves. This poor motor planning is called dyspraxia.
How Motor Planning Affects a Child’s Behavior
Poor motor planning can also affect your child’s behavior. A normal child can use zippers on jeans, button their shirt, each fruits and vegetables easily with utensils (such as a grapefruit) and they can fasten their own seat belt. Children who develop motor planning skills appropriately often try new toys, sports and activities that improve their physical and mental development.
If a child struggles with motor planning, they typically avoid buttons, zippers and shoe laces. You may notice they often pick out a t-shirt, pants with an elastic or sandals they can slip on before school. They may also have trouble walking down stairs and they can’t use their fork or knife for cutting. When the child is ready for school, they often depend on an adult to fasten their seat belt and they avoid toys that are new or that encourage using their motor skills.
Characteristics of Poor Motor Planning
If your child has poor motor planning skills, you may notice the following:
- Has difficulty not only figuring out the steps to complete a task, but doing those steps in order. For example, if you show a child the steps to tying their shoes, they have great difficulty repeating those steps correctly and in order.
- Has trouble with body positioning. For example, you want to put a coat on your child but they cannot figure out how best to approach the situation.
- Frequently trips, falls, bumps into things due to not knowing where their body is in relation to other objects and people.
- Has no confidence when needing to physically move
- Poor hand eye coordination
These are general warning signs if your child doesn’t motor plan.
Dyspraxia and Learning
For a child struggling with dyspraxia, not only are simple tasks like putting on gloves and eating with a utensil very difficult, but different kinds of tasks at school become difficult as well. Handwriting is something that a child with dyspraxia will struggle with and is one of the first signs to watch for in your child. They may also struggle with staying organized due to the fact that they will have a hard time putting papers in folders and putting those folders in a binder or backpack. You may also notice they have trouble learning to read and spell.
Depending on the severity of dyspraxia, your child may also show signs of ADHD or attention issues in the classroom, which is why they have trouble following directions. If a teacher tells the class, “put your spelling worksheet in your English folder and put your folder in your desk, or get out a red colored pencil and a piece of paper, and draw a heart on the piece of paper,” the child most likely can’t follow the instructions given by the teacher. The child with dyspraxia is already stuck when the teacher first asks them to put their worksheet in their folder, which makes it so they don’t put the folder in their desk.
Because a child may feel defeated by simple tasks, their behavior changes in a negative way and they can become difficult to manage at home and in the classroom.
How to improve Motor Planning Skills
Children with poor motor planning skills or those who have dyspraxia do not outgrow these symptoms. However, there are many things that can help them build confidence to be successful in school and life. Movement therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy may all be beneficial to any child struggling with motor planning. However, you can also do more physical activities at home to strengthen and improve their motor planning skills.
It’s important to keep the stakes low or rewards small in the beginning so your child doesn’t lose confidence. Don’t start playing kickball and offer the winning team ice cream if your child is already weak in this area. You may have to start with something simple by teaching them first how to kick the ball. If your child has dyspraxia, they will typically get frustrated that so much relies on their physical skills, which is why exercises that promote movement and build their core muscle are helpful. Low stakes, fun, physical activity will naturally strengthen their gross motor skills.
To strengthen your child’s fine motor skills, puzzles are helpful and fun, but there are also many apps that help with building fine motor skills as well as long as they are used in moderation. Handwriting exercises using your child’s pincer grasp is still the best option for fine motor development. To improve your child’s pencil grip, you can find pencil grips at the store for their pencil or you can help your child use the keyboard on the computer as an alternative if they struggle with handwriting issues, especially if your child has dyspraxia. However, if your child struggles with fine motor planning, the best “medicine” is to continue using hand-strengthening exercises, fine motor toys and handwriting exercises. Not only do these activities improve your child’s handwriting, they can also rewire and retrain the brain for higher learning.
At school, make sure you communicate with your child’s teacher. If your child has dyspraxia, depending on the severity, you may want to seek out a 504 or IEP plan for your student so they are guaranteed classroom accommodations. If you would like to ensure that your child’s educator is making helpful accommodations, here is a list that can help children motor plan.
Motor Planning is important, and the lack of being able to acquire this skill is a lifelong struggle. It is important to stay positive and celebrate every small success.
For more beneficial activities that may help your child’s physical literacy, check out our video membership here.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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