Monday, April 29, 2013

What are Perceptual Motor Skills, And How do I Help my Kid Get Them? Part II
In an earlier post, "What are Perceptual Motor Skills and How Do I Get my Kid Some?" I gave an overview of what perceptual motor skills are, how they impact daily in our lives, and how to help promote them.
Perceptual motor skills refer to our ability to coordinate constant input and feedback between our eyes - brain - and muscles as we plan, coordinate and effectively carry out specific activities such as moving, walking, running, skipping, eating, working, writing, keyboarding, texting, driving, playing, etc.
I've gotten a lot of wonderful inquiries and feedback (thank you all), and devote this post to discussing the differences between gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and  grapho-motor skills - which correspond to different muscle groups and therefore to different types of perceptual motor skills, all of which we rely daily from birth to death.

Our development of perceptual motor skills begins at birth, and while there are developmental milestones doctors, psychologists, health providers and teachers will refer to, kids develop these skills at different rates.  IF you are concerned about your own child's skills, ask these professionals for guidance.  However, the best way to develop these skills is to practice them and consciously pay attention to the feedback you get when practicing.  Feedback refers to how successful each element of the practice was at achieving the target goal- the strength used, the grip used, the extension used, etc.
How to help kids develop perceptual motor skills: Different activities engage different types of muscle groups and as a result different muscles and brain centers are responsible for coordinating eye-brain-hand/foot/mouth/body responses.  
  • ALL percpetual motor skills develop at slightly different paces although experts have set 'normal' developmental milestone limits, and 
  • ALL development involves practice in use and recognizing and understanding motor feedback (how effective different movements are at achieving a target goal).


FINE MOTOR SKILLS involve coordinating the use of small muscle groups (typically in the fingers, hands, wrists, feet, toes, lips and tongue)  in tasks such as buttoning, sewing, eating, beading, painting, drawing, tying shoe laces, or grabbing something with your thumb and forefinger. Note that fine motor skills, while integrating eye-brain-hand feedback, are not responsible for handwriting (which falls under graph-motor skills - more details below).

What you can do to help kids develop fine motor skills:
  • PRACTICE, practice, practice.  Start with simplified, large materials and gradually move to smaller/heavier/narrower objects.
  • Play with legos and blocks- starting with the larger pieces and gradually integrate and move to the smaller ones;
  • Beading - start with large beads and once mastered, bead with smaller and smaller objects;
  • Bow tying - you may want to start with thick yarn or thick tying materials on dolls, large books and gradually move to thinner and thinner tying materials such as laces.
  • Make play-dough together, mixing the flour, water, salt, by hand and choosing your own colors.  Making it requires kneading which is EXCELLENT fine motor practice for all kinds of hands.
  • For younger kids, there are wonderful fine-motor books you can make or buy where you can read the book and have your child practice buttoning, tying, sewing, playing with zippers, etc. These are great because the practice element is built in and is fun!
  • For kids with weak oral/mouth/tongue coordination, practice making sounds placing the tongue in different locations. Note the difference sounds depending on the placement of tongue and lips.
  • Squeezing squeezy toys can help kids develop stronger grips and hand muscles.

 For more information on fine motor skills please read:

GROSS MOTOR SKILLS involve coordinating the use of large muscle groups involved in motor activities that involve large movements such as crawling, walking, running, jumping, balancing, dancing, most sports.

What you can do to help kids develop gross motor skills:
  • PRACTICE, practice, practice.  Start with simplified, large materials and gradually move to smaller/heavier/narrower objects. Also, for those with weak gross motor skills, have them practice in the privacy of their home/room where they won't fall victim to possible ridicule and/or embarrassment.
  • Play ball, practice throwing and catching.  Start with large, soft balls and gradually decrease their size and weight
  • Teach your child how to skip which involves stepping and hopping.  Break down the skipping movements and exaggerate them at first, refining the movements gradually.
  • Practice balance by walking on wide lines or tiles and gradually trying to walk on narrower lines.
  • Play games like Simon Says and Mother May I

 For more information on gross motor skills please read:

GRAPHOMOTOR SKILLS involve highly specialized coordination between eye-hand-finger movements used for writing, and writing only. [Drawing, interestingly enough falls under fine-motor skills.] More specifically, graphomotor skills include how to effectively hold a pencil so the hand doesn't tire, muscle movements needed to shape letters, and kinesthetic feedback necessary to monitor progress when writing making sure the letters look like they're supposed to, that the ink or pencil lead is not too weak or too strong, and that there is just the right space between letters and words so others can read them (whether they are in print or script).

What you can do to help kids develop graphomotor skills:
  • PRACTICE, practice, practice. 
  • Have your child practice handwriting - first with a large pencil and large lined paper, gradually using thinner pencils and more narrowly spaced lines.
  • Grips help some kids but not all of them.  Furthermore, there are different types of grips and you may want to experiment.
  • Make sure students have enough space on math sheets and worksheets to comfortably fill in the required response.
 For more information on graphomotor skills please read:

Thank you all so much for your visit.  Please leave your thoughts, ideas and perceptual motor strategies in the comments below.


  1. I wish my daughter would PRACTICE her clarinet more frequently. She WOULD get better, I PROMISE her/
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  2. I keep telling Princess Nagger that practice, practice, practice is always a good thing! Love this - I've always wondered what the specific differences between each of the motor skills were. :)

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  3. PERPETUAL motion isn't exactly on my radar anymore. I PREFER PEACE and quiet. Kate, ABC Team

  4. Great information. My daughter was always better at practice that I am. If I don't get something fast I shifted gears to something else. I'm glad she didn't inherit that from me.

  5. Thanks! You explained this better than any occupational therapist I've met! I have to say, though, that despite practice, practice, practice, I still cannot read my own handwriting. Thank goodness for typing!

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