Written by: Timothy Spadzinski, occupational therapy student, University of Toronto
Edited by: Lizette Alexander, OT Reg. (Ont) with appreciation
Every day we do tasks that require a few steps. Take washing your hands for example. We often do this automatically, without thinking about each step we are taking – turning the tap on, putting soap on your hands, lathering it with water, rinsing, turning the tap off, and drying your hands. Sounds like a lot, I know! But for some, these steps don’t come easily, and in order to complete the task, they must plan what they are doing before they do it. With this in mind, we are going to explore our actions a little bit more to better understand what goes into planning a movement – Motor Planning.
What is Motor Planning?
Put simply, Motor Planning involves identifying the steps required for a task, and the correct order to successfully complete it – it is the thought behind the action (Holecko, 2019; Rosen, n.d.). In one of our earlier blogs on Motor Learning, we discussed how a new skill is learned, and how our brain strengthens connections to movement patterns we choose to successfully learn something.
Motor Planning provides a foundation for Motor Learning.
Planning requires knowledge of someone’s internal self (i.e., strength, flexibility, attention, coordination), the external environment (i.e., objects to be used, surface to walk/stand on, distractions, etc.), and the steps needed for the task. By using this information, a child’s motor planning skills gradually development through exploration and interaction with their surroundings (Rosen, n.d.; Serrien & O’Regan, 2020).
Key Factors in Motor Planning
Motor Control is an internal factor that identifies which muscles need to be used in a task
Fine Motor Control – use of small muscle groups (i.e., holding a pencil, grasping a cup)
Gross Motor Control – use of larger muscle groups (i.e., running, kicking a ball)
Motor Coordination is an internal factor that identifies the use of multiple body parts at once
Ex: Bouncing a ball with your hands while moving your legs around a court.
Bilateral Coordination – use of both sides of the body (i.e., holding paper with one hand and using scissors in the other)
Challenges in Motor Planning
Although a child may have typically developed strength and muscle tone, some children may find planning their movements more difficult than anticipated. This will often present as clumsiness, requiring extra time to complete a task, or even impact speech (motor speech disorder), each indicating difficulties in motor planning and coordination (Holecko, 2019; Rosen, n.d.). Diagnoses such as Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have often been linked to challenges in motor planning. Stay tuned for future blogs on these very unique topics!
- Teach the Steps first so the child knows what needs to be done
- Modelling (Demonstrations) allows a child to see what a successful movement should look like and helps create a mental image (Rosen, n.d.; Serrien & O’Regan, 2020)
- Backward Chaining. Working backward from the goal, the parent teaches the last step first. The parent then does all the steps except the last one, letting the child do that step to complete the task. This lets them feel the success of finishing the task and motivates them to practice that step more! Once mastered, the parent teaches the second last step and goes through the process again, letting the child practice the last two steps to complete the task. The process continues step-by-step until the child can complete the entire task by themselves.
- Visual Schedules give the child a visual guide to the steps needed in a task
- Practice: Developing motor planning skills for new tasks or movements takes time and practice– we develop new motor planning skills throughout life! (Rosen, n.d.; Serrien & O’Regan, 2020)
How TCTC can help:
Tasks that require multiple steps like washing hands, tying shoelaces or speaking in a sentence can be complicated! Programs that Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) may use to support children with motor planning difficulties include Cognitive Orientation to daily Occupational Performance (CO-OP) Approach and Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets (PROMPT).
If you believe your child could benefit from developing planning strategies for fine and gross motor movements, sensory processing, or speech, we encourage you to contact us for more information. For more information on programs currently available, take a look at our Occupational Therapy and Speech Language Therapy Services!
Holecko, C. (2019). Motor planning, control, and coordination. Verywell Family. Retrieved from https://www.verywellfamily.com/what-is-motor-planning-1256903#citation-1
Rosen, P. (n.d.). Motor planning: What you need to know. Understood. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/movement-coordination-issues/motor-planning-what-you-need-to-know
Serrien, D. J. & O’Regan, L. (2020). The development of motor planning strategies in children. European Journal of Developmental Psychology. doi: 10.1080/17405629.2020.1736029