Techniques for Assessing Motor Skills

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

Motor skills are essential to childhood development. In this lesson, we will learn about different motor skills such as locomotor, non-locomotor, and object control skills. We will review examples of how to assess the development of these skills.

Childhood Development

As soon as a baby is born, they are using their body to learn about the world around them. Jean Piaget was a Swiss clinical psychologist who is well known for his work on child development. His theory suggests that sensory and motor activities are the basis for a child's intellectual development and functioning for the first 2 years of life. Even as children continue to grow, motor skills are essential for their development.

Baby Swimming

You have probably heard that play is a child's school. This is so very true. Physical activities help children develop social skills. It is also a positive way to help children release energy and strong emotions. In fact, motor skills and activities can be tied into any learning objective. Motor skills are simply any movement that is done using muscles. For example, a child can stack blocks of different sizes from largest to smallest to begin to gain mathematical understanding. A child can run to release anger or paint to release other emotions. The use of parachute play in school helps children learn how to work together for a common goal.

As you hopefully see by now, motor skills and activity is essential to children's development. So how can you assess motor skills in children?

Locomotor Skills

Locomotor skills are the skills used for basic movement. They are the building blocks for coordination. You can find many different assessment tools online for examples of how to assess a child's locomotor skills. Activities to assess include galloping, sliding, jumping, hopping on one foot, running and skipping. Each activity is individually performed and assessed. The child's ability to perform the skill will be evaluated as needing improvement, meeting expectations, or mastery of the skill.

Jumping Rope

Let's look closer at one of the skills to understand how to assess it. Hopping is a balance movement from one foot to the same foot. If the child understands and describes the movement, but cannot perform it, they are needing improvement. If the child leans slightly forward, has poor balance, moves their arms up and down and is able to complete the skill but only in a limited number of hops consecutively, they are proficient. They have mastered the locomotor skill of hopping if they can hop balanced on either foot, their landing is soft and controlled, their arms are used for force not balance, and they can perform many consecutive hops. What about other motor skills to assess?

Non-locomotor Skills

Conversely, non-locomotor skills are movements that a person performs while remaining stationary. Non-locomotor skills allow stability and control when in different positions and when moving. Non-locomotor skills include stretching, bending, pulling, pushing, swaying, twisting, log-rolling, and balancing. Children use these skills in everyday activities both in structured and unstructured situations.


Children develop these skills at different rates. Development of these skills occurs through a spectrum and children will progress through the different stages of development, regardless of their age.

Let's look closer at one of these skills to understand the development of the skill. Balance is important in so many activities. A child may begin learning balance as they learn to walk on their tiptoes. They initially will need the help of a parent's hand to support them. They will progress to being able to walk on a wide balance beam or similar surface without support. From there they will learn to balance for a short distance on a narrow beam without support and finally being able to walk the full distance of a narrow beam. Again, the focus should be on the process development of these skills and not necessarily on age of development.

Object Control Skills

Object control skills are skills that require the child to control an object with their body. There are two types of these skills: propulsive, which is sending an object away from the body, and receptive, which is receiving an object. Propulsive skills are easier to develop since the child has control of the object to send away. Receptive skills require increased perception and coordination to receive an incoming object. Object control skills are used in games and sports, but also in everyday living. Skills include underarm rolling or throwing, catching, kicking, and bouncing. Let's look closer at one object control skill to understand how the skill develops.

Playing Catch

Underarm rolling is one of the object control skills. In the initial development of this skill, the child stands with his feet apart with both hands on the ball, palms facing each other. His arms are straight and he swings the ball between his legs and straightens his body to release the ball. He keeps his eyes on the ball. This stage of development occurs between 2-3 years of age.

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