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Motor development

How does motor skills affect a person's learning? Find out in this article which discusses what motor skills are and why it's needed in everyday life.
© University of Reading

Motor skills are the mechanics of motor development and are about the body’s ability to control body movements. A good grasp of control of your motor skills is needed in everything you do.

For many of you, you already possess a good level of motor skills to be able to form letters on the page without thinking about it. However, when you were asked to write with your non-dominant hand, did you find you were concentrating more on forming letters than you were on your short story? As well as helping you empathise with children when they’re learning new things, you may have a gained new understanding of the importance of your motor skills. Here are some more examples of motor skills in play:

  • If you’re in danger and need to run away. To achieve this you need the motor skills of strong legs, arms pumping, and a physically fit heart. Your mind needs to be free of the mechanics of running because you need to think about exit routes and places of possible safety.
  • If you’re hungry and need to cook. Cooking is much more complicated than you first think and requires good motor skills. When cooking, you want to be considering the quantities of each ingredient needed for the meal, the heat of the cooker, judgement about whether something is cooked, the skills to cut, chop, mix and whisk etc. However, if you’re at a low level of motor skill, the most you may be able to do is concentrate on the chopping and not think about any else.

In many schools, there are older children who are underachieving for their age group. Have you considered it may be due to their lack of motor skills rather than cognitive ability? Some children can’t keep up with the quantity of writing involved in their learning because they haven’t mastered handwriting. This means the brain has to concentrate on the correct formation of letters and words, not the ideas for that particular piece of writing. As you’ve experienced in the previous Step if the automatic motor skills have not been developed, the child will find themselves concentrating with forming letters over anything else.

When working with children you need to consider not just the cognitive aspects – such as writing and reading and mathematics – but also each child’s motor development and whether it’s that lack of motor skill that’s stopping their development.

Below is a summary of motor skills that we all need to master and the stages we have to go through.

Motor Skill Definition Examples
Locomotor or gross motor how the body moves in the environment walking, running, jumping, hopping, skipping, sliding, leaping, crawling, climbing, standing and sitting. And yes sitting is a movement!
Non-locomotor is all to do with balance are bending, stretching, twisting, pivoting, swinging, rolling, landing, stopping, dodging, balancing and inverted support (holding oneself upside down).
Manipulative or fine motor imparting a force on objects catching, kicking, trapping, striking, volleying, bouncing, rolling, pulling, pushing, punting (eg: drop kick in rugby), dribbling, grasping, reaching, gripping, holding (eg: sewing, cutting, typing, writing, drawing, painting).
Table: Summary taken from Gallahue, D.L. & Ozmun. J.C. Understanding Motor Development. Infants, children, adolescents and adults. 6th ed. New York:McGraw-Hill. 2006
© University of Reading
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