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Domains of Motor Learning in Children

Instructor: Emily Cummins
How do we learn to move? How do we learn to do things like play sports? In this lesson, we'll talk about the stages of motor development in children. We'll discuss the basic stages of motor development, from beginning to learn a motor movement to mastering it.

Motor Learning in Children

Learning to walk, talk, write, and move are important parts of child development. Motor skills are simply the movements that we learn how to make as we grow up. This includes everything from waving to holding a pencil.

Motor behavior is basically all of the movements that we make with our body. This includes everything from moving our limbs to blinking our eyes. In this lesson we'll talk about stages of motor development and the different kinds of motor skills we develop as we progress from infancy to adolescence.

Motor behavior is all of the movements a human body makes
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So how do we learn how to move or master a motor skill? In this lesson, we'll talk about the process of motor learning, which is basically the process through which one acquires the ability to (usually) permanently perform a skill.

How Do We Learn?

At the most basic level, in order to perform a skill our brain needs to send a signal to our muscles, telling them to do what we want them to do. Motor learning requires practice. In order to permanently acquire a skill, we have to do it over and over again, until it seems natural to us. Have you ever heard the expression, 'just like riding a bike'? This is a useful way to think about motor learning. Once you know how to do a skill, you can usually continue to perform that skill from then on.

This is known as procedural learning. Things like riding a bike or walking develop over time after we've practiced the skill over and over. But after this, it's pretty natural to us and we might even be able to perform the skill even if we suffer a brain injury. It's basically like our muscles remember to move for us. Before we talk about the stages of motor learning, let's quickly review the major types of motor skills.

Types of Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are the bigger movements that we make. These skills aren't things like holding a pencil steady or walking a tight-rope, but rather things like running, moving our arms up and down, or kicking a ball. Basically, this is a point during childhood development when we're starting to become more coordinated and gain more control over our movements.

The development of gross motor skills is key to allowing us to do basic things like walking, which provides the foundation for more complex activities like playing sports.

As they get a bit older, children also begin to develop their fine motor skills, or smaller and more intricate movements. This might be things like opening a jar or working a button or zipper on a piece of clothing. These movements are smaller and require more control of our limbs.

Gross motor skills include activities like jumping, skipping, running, and hopping, while fine motor skills include things like writing or using our fingers to play the piano.

Stages of Motor Learning

Children first learn basic movements, after which they build upon these movements to perform more complex tasks. Motor learning develops in stages. As we develop, we get better at harder tasks because we've built a foundation of simple skills. Researchers have identified a number of processes that facilitate the acquisition of motor learning. Let's talk about those now.

First, we need attention. In other words, we need to be able to pay attention to our surroundings, which helps us process how others are moving, and then learn from it. This might also be thought of as the cognitive stage of motor learning. We first need to understand what a motor skill is before we can expect our brain to communicate to our muscles to do it. So, for example, when we're learning to jump rope we might watch an older friend do it and learn by watching. The first few times we try we might stumble or get tangled up in the rope. But eventually, our bodies will catch up to our brains.

After a little bit of practice, we enter the associative stage. This means our movements become a bit more controlled and fluid. So, you won't get tangled up in your jump rope as frequently and you might be able to go a bit faster.

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