Being physically active is an important part of growing healthy children. Building an early foundation of physical activity is critical to being active throughout life but may require more than just spending time outdoors running and playing. Children need to build strength, learn basic fundamental movement skills and also develop their perceptual motor skills.
WHAT IS PERCEPTUAL MOTOR DEVELOPMENT?
Unlike fundamental movement skills that form the building blocks for movement, such as hopping, jumping, running or balance, perceptual motor development connects a child’s perceptual or sensory skills (his brain) to his motor skills (his body) so they can perform a variety of movements and confidently interact with their environment. Developing perceptual motor skills involves teaching children movements related to time (e.g. moving fast vs slow), direction (moving forward, back or to the side) and spatial awareness (e.g. crossing his arm from the right side of the body to the left or tapping the heel to the ground).
WHY DO CHILDREN NEED TO DEVELOP PERCEPTUAL MOTOR SKILLS?
Preschoolers are still in Jean Piaget’s pre-operational stage of development. They think in symbols, are developing memory, imagination and their thinking is egocentric and based on intuition not logic so they cannot yet grasp complex concepts such as direction, spatial awareness and speed variance (fast or slow). Perceptual motor development involves brain functions necessary to plan and make decisions from simple to more complex. Building perceptual motor skills allows children to practice these complex and unfamiliar tasks such as stepping back without looking or touching the right hand to the left knee (spatial awareness). Mastery of these perceptual motor skills sets a foundation for being more active and completing important day-to-day activities independently while preparing to read, write and master more complex skills. Young children need to be taught and provided with opportunities to practice perceptual motor skills; they do not just occur overnight (1). Waiting until elementary school (when specific sports and other physical activities are introduced) to teach motor skills to the child contributes to her lack of self-efficacy and consequently her ability to successfully participate. Children who do not develop these skills will eventually gravitate away from active sports, games and dance towards less threatening sedentary hobbies (2).
DIRECTION, TIME & SPACE
Note: While most children need to be taught and given opportunities to practice these moves, some children may have delays or impairments that prevent them from completing tasks and should be referred to their doctor.