Perceptual Motor Development: Definition & Components

Perceptual Motor Development: Definition & Components
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  • 0:03 Perceptual Motor Skills
  • 1:36 Progression
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Perceptual motor development occurs in infants, toddlers, and young children as they learn to match their physical responses to stimuli they perceive from their surrounding environment. This lesson will dive more into these concepts.

Perceptual Motor Skills

Anyone who has raised or watched an infant grow and learn has seen firsthand how quickly the brain and body of a tiny human develop. One type of development we're interested in learning about is perceptual motor development, wherein a child learns how to physically respond to stimuli or cues from their surrounding environment. Let's break this down a bit more to make sense of it.

Perception is the ability to collect and process information from the environment around you. For example, a newborn might wake up suddenly and begin crying when a toy crashes to the ground. They heard (meaning they perceived) the noise stimulus and responded to it.

Motor behavior development refers to all of the movements the body is capable of making, including those of the eyes and head. For example, when the baby begins crying, he may also start waving his arms and legs trying to signal his mother to pick him up.

Over time, these two skills overlap and become linked, meaning physical movements are matched appropriately in response to an environmental cue or stimulus that was perceived. Using our same example, we have evidence of perceptual motor development when the infant hears the toy crash to the ground, turns to look in the direction of the noise, and reaches out to the toy. Here, he has perceived the stimulus - the toy crashing to the ground, making a loud noise - and used motor skills to respond by turning his head in the direction of the toy, seeing it, and trying to reach for it. These developments may be subtle, but they are constantly taking place during the first few years of life.

Progression of Perceptual Motor Development

Some of the first motor skills infants use are eye movements, and slowly this expands to movement of the arms, legs, and hands (even though they're uncoordinated). Eventually, the child begins crawling and walking, learning to adjust their steps based on the surface of the floor. As an infant grows into a toddler, their muscle mass and body fat redistribute, making it easier for them to conquer these new challenges.

We can actually split motor skills into two categories: gross motor skills and fine motor skills.

Gross motor skills involve activities like rolling over, sitting up, crawling, and walking. These allow the child to gain new perspectives from which to evaluate their surrounding environment, enabling them to begin learning social skills and rules. Fine motor skills involve more intricate tasks, like touching, grabbing, and manipulating objects, enabling learning about the details of different objects and people.

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