Sensory Motor Skills in Children: What Are They, Why Are They Important, & How Can They Be Improved?
Children learn and develop quickly as toddlers. Sensory motor skills are what allow children to explore the world around them and learn new things. Issues in sensory motor skills development can limit a child's learning, such as being able to write. These issues should be addressed early in life, with the help of healthcare professionals. This article will explain what sensory motor skills are, why they are important, and some of the ways that parents can help children develop sensory motor skills during their toddler years.
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What are sensory motor skills?
Sensory skills include vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch and balance. Children are not born with fully developed sensory skills, and need to experience new sights, sounds, scents, flavors and textures to develop these skills. Motor skills are the physical abilities that allow coordinated movement. Motor skills are usually split into two categories – gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills involve moving large muscles, like the ones in the arms, legs, back, and chest. Gross motor skills are important for sitting upright, crawling, walking, and running. They can also be seen when children push, kick, climb, and roll over during play. Fine motor skills involve moving small muscles, like the ones in the hands and feet. Fine motor skills are important for grabbing and holding on to smaller objects, setting objects down gently and in the correct place, and drawing. Sensory motor skills are more complex combinations of sensory skills and motor skills. During each "sensory motor skill", the brain uses sensory skills to collect information from the world around it, then makes sense of that sensory information, and finally uses its motor skills to do something in response. Some examples of sensory motor skills include: Coordination and balanceUnderstanding where one's body parts are in spaceSitting still or maintaining a specific postureBeing able to track moving objects with one's eyesBeing able to plan how something should be completed
Why are sensory motor skills important?
Sensory motor skills are the foundation of all learning that will take place throughout life. These skills allow children to explore, play, and try more challenging things. If one sensory motor skill fails to develop properly, a child can struggle to continue learning at the same speed as other children their age. For example, if a child struggles with balance or their ability to plan the order of tasks, they may also struggle to develop problem-solving skills. If a child struggles with understanding where their body parts are in space, they may also struggle with learning to write. The toddler years are an important time when sensory motor skills should be developing – toddlers should be putting sensory skills and motor skills together to interact with the world around them. If there are issues in how sensory motor skills are developing, the toddler years are also an important time to work with healthcare professionals and get a child back-on-track for lifelong learning.
How do I know that my child's sensory motor skills are developing properly?
Most children's sensory motor skills develop properly, just by being exposed to new places, people, and activities. Some children can have slower development of certain sensory motor skills. Depending on the specific skill that is affected, the signs of poor sensory motor skill development can be different. Possible signs that your child is struggling to develop appropriate sensory motor skills include: A lack of coordination and movement for their age, or an inability to do things that other children their age can do easily. For example:difficulty holding themselves or sitting uprightnot being interested in crawling or moving arounddifficulty holding smaller toysclumsiness handling objectsA lack of understanding where their body parts are in space. For example:difficulty bringing food to their mouth gentlyplacing items in a specific place, like a cup in a cup holderBeing unable to track moving objects. For example:difficulty following a ball that was tossed up into the airnot being able to follow a pet running bydifficulty following leaves blowing in the windOther issues like slower language learning can also be signs that sensory motor skills are not developing properly (difficulty sounding words or retelling events)It can be difficult to notice signs that your child is not developing their sensory motor skills properly. Regular check-ups with a healthcare professional can help parents decide if their child is struggling with sensory motor skills development.
What can I do if my child is diagnosed with a sensory motor disorder or has delayed sensory motor development?
As a parent, some of the best ways to help a toddler who is struggling to develop sensory motor skills include:Learning about the challenges facing your child from healthcare professionalsLearning about sensory motor development activities and how to do them at homeDedicating time to participate in sensory motor activities with your childDedicating time for regular follow-up appointments with your child's healthcare professionalsMaintain a planner or diary of sensory motor activities
What are sensory motor activities that can be done at home?
Some activities and types of play are great for improving sensory motor skills development. Examples include: Drawing or coloring with crayons or colored pencilsCutting out simple shapes from paper or play-dough with safety scissorsPlaying with balls of different shapes and sizesPainting with a brush or a spongeClimbing onto and sliding down a slideEnjoying swingsDoing simple puzzles
How can occupational therapists help my child develop sensory motor skills?
Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals who can help your child develop sensory motor skills. After examining your child, an occupational therapist can recommend activities that will help address your child's unique needs. They can also help parents and families learn about ways to manage the challenges your child may be having at home, at school, or around specific activities in their daily routine. Occupational therapists can also collaborate with daycares and schools to adapt your child's learning environment outside of the home. With regular follow-ups, an occupational therapist can continue to give your child new challenges that support sensory motor skill development. The strategies that occupational therapists provide for families can reduce stress for parents and caregivers. Some of the benefits that occupational therapists can provide for children with sensory motor development challenges include: Better coordination and balanceBetter social skills by knowing boundaries of proximityBetter fine motor skillsBetter motor planningIf you are concerned about your child's sensory motor skills development, talk to a healthcare professional who can refer you to an occupational therapist, if necessary.
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