Perceptual motor skills refer to our ability to coordinate small and/or large muscle groups to accomplish some task we visualize doing. It requires our integrating eye-hand or eye-foot coordination (or eye-any other body part) so we can button our shirts, writing our names, enter our blogs (even after accidentally erasing them...yes this is a rewrite), jumping rope, shooting hoops, skiing, etc.
Who has it? Who doesn't?
The Harlem Globetrotters; jugglers, dancers, athletes HAVE IT.
Klutzes - like me - and Homer Simpson don't.
I love dancing...when I'm not tripping and twisting my already weak ankles. On the other hand, my daughter dances hip hop and can move her hands, arms, feet, body at ridiculous speeds. My dad tells us how in the army, he had a knack of finding the holes and ditches - he'd always be the one tripping over them. I took piano lessons and clunked out the songs, my other daughter plays and her fingers glide with grace and agility over the keys playing songs that I could never play (when she's not juggling or fencing). We are either blessed with strong perceptual motor skills (like my daughters) or we have to painfully gain muscle strength and memory to compensate for weak perceptual motor skills.
What's the big deal about these skills? We are constantly calling upon these skills when we write, walk, play games/sports, eat, dress...you name it.
A Day in the Life of Perceptual Motor Skills:
- Dressing: sorting through clothes, taking clothes off the hanger, unbuttoning/ buttoning, unzipping/ zipping, snapping, tucking, tying, covering/uncovering ALL require perceptual motor skills.
- Getting to work or school: walking, driving, biking, running;
- If you take a bus: getting out your pass; climbing large stairs, walking down the aisle of a moving vehicle, etc.
- Entering work or school- opening doors, lockers, desks, drawers and taking out what is needed;
- Navigating the room to get to the desk - either moving around a classroom or large/small office;
- Taking out books and turning to the correct page;
- Writing or typing information;
- In class - handling what teachers call "manipulatives" or chips, disks, cubes to help visualize a problem or classroom topic;
- Computing a math problem: navigating a page of problems and calculating a long problem requiring carrying, writing, computing;
- Lab skills: handing different types, sizes, and weights of equipment;
- Eating: cutting, carrying a tray to a table and sitting with others making sure not to spill your food over the heart throb across from you, clearing dishes, washing dishes, etc.;
- Recess/play time: any kind of ball playing, jumping rope, skipping, running, playing any game with movable pieces;
- Getting ready for bed - brushing hair and teeth, clearing the bed, laying out clothes,
How to help your child build and strengthen these skills:
- Practice. Break down the task into manageable subparts and practice them. Build muscle strength and muscle memory by doing them over and over again. With your child who is weak or learning - make sure she or he practices in private at first because it can be embarrassing.
- Use light weights on arms and/or feet to improve awareness of the muscles needed for the desired task. This will also help build strength and coordination. You or your child can also use light weights to build muscle strength.
- Target weak muscles with activities that strengthen arms, hands fingers, feet. Erasing the board is a great for strengthening arms. If your child has weak upper body muscle control, ask the teacher if he or she can help erase/wash the board.
- Practice the desired movements in front of a mirror or in front of a video camera. This can help provide visual feedback for monitoring body position.
- Help your child visualize what he or she should be doing. Go through the steps just picturing what has to be done and then slowly have him or her do enact the steps just visualized.
- Hand grips, pencil grips, and squeezy balls often help build finger and hand strength needed for handwriting.
- With handwriting issues, experiment with different sizes and types of pencils and pens. Sometimes kids find pencils easier to write with, some pens (my son was a 'pen kind of guy' and he hated the grips- experiment - everyone is a bit different).
I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. Please let me know if you have questions or issues you'd like me to cover in greater detail. And please, in the comments let all of us know about your successes or strategies.