Classification of Motor Skills

Instructor: Emily Cummins
In this lesson, we'll discuss different kinds of movements known as motor skills. We'll look at how we classify each into different categories depending on the type of movement and the environment in which the movement happens.

What are Motor Skills?

Walking, running, speaking, dancing, swimming, and many other activities involve motor skills, or the use of our muscles to make our bodies move and do the activities we want to do.

Before we go into more detail about the specific types, we should understand two big categories of motor skills. Gross motor skills are the skills that we need to operate the large muscles in our body. It refers to things like moving our arms and legs. Gross motor skills are some of the first things we develop, like when we learn to crawl and then walk. Generally speaking, our gross motor skills are developed by the time we're done with childhood.

Fine motor skills are small movements and actions. So, actions like holding a pencil and writing both require fine motor skills. These skills use smaller muscles like our fingers and toes. They involve more refined movements than gross motor skills.

Classification of Motor Skills

Now that we understand two big categories of motor skills, let's talk about movements in a little bit more detail. First, discrete motor skills are the kinds of skills and actions that have an observable start and finish. In other words, you can identify them as skills where you can see when a person begins and ends them. So, for example, shooting a basketball is a discrete movement. You stand, aim, throw the ball, and it's done!

Serial motor skills look a little different when performed but are basically a series of discrete motor skills. For example, a ballet dancer completing a routine requires serial motor skills. You can see when she finishes a pirouette or when a leap ends, but these movements are all linked together in a series.

Continuous motor skills look different than both discrete and serial actions. A continuous task does not have an easily identifiable start or finish. Think of this as something like walking or running around a track. It's difficult to observe when a person starts and finishes this activity.

Open and Closed Movements

Now that we know what different kinds of motor skills look like, we can further distinguish between open and closed movements or skills. These determinations have a lot to do with the environment where a movement takes place.

Open movements happen in environments where we don't have a lot of control. Think about surfing as an example. You can choose to get on your board in the water, but waves, wind, sun, and water temperature are all factors in the environment that impact your completion of this skill. The waves might be too big for you that day, or the cold temperature of the water might make it difficult to perform tricks on your surfboard.

Open motor skills are also found in situations like team sports. If you're playing on a football team, you rely on your other teammates to win a game. You might not be able to predict their moves, making your movements more challenging.

Closed movements are the opposite of open movements, and they refer to skills that are performed in more predictable or stable environments. So, for example, a ballerina performing a solo dance inside of a dance studio is a closed movement. It's pretty unlikely this dancer will need to consider the outside environment, and she doesn't have to worry about teammates.

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