How does a child learn a new motor skill?

Motor skill development stages

Firstly break down the task of eating a blueberry (from the high chair tray) in to small movement steps:

fine motor skill development activity

1 - Balance and core strength

  • Phoebe is sitting upright without falling to the side because her body has learnt the feeling of sitting upright through experiencing the feeling of falling or tipping over and being propped back up to an upright position again by an adult.

2 - Object identification

  • Phoebe's visual system is helping her to notice that there are blueberries on her tray. She is aware now that blueberries are an object that are safe to eat after observing how her parent or caregiver reacts to her behaviour when she places a blueberry in her mouth, versus the reaction she receives when she places a block or a bead in her mouth.

3 - Fine motor skill development

  • Phoebe started by picking up one individual blueberry at a time with her whole hand. She used to squish the blueberry everywhere before learning how to pick up the blueberry gently with just her fingers.
  • This process of progressing from squishing each blueberry to carefully picking up blueberries is called neuroplasticity.

4 - Spatial awareness

  • Through trial and error and making mistakes, Phoebe has developed the ability to know where her fingers are on her body in relation to the location of her mouth. She has also developed the spatial awareness needed to understand how far her hand is from the blueberries that are positioned on the high chair. To make this activity more complex, Phoebe has also learnt how to position her fingers so that they are close enough to pick up the blueberry without the fingers being positioned too close that they squish the blueberry, or too far away that her fingers drop the blueberry. As a result she has achieved the ability to place the blueberry into her mouth without the blueberry hitting her nose or without dropping the blueberry back on to the tray.

5 - Oral motor function

  • With practice and neuroplasticity, Phoebe has developed the ability to chew and swallow the blueberry safely without choking. All of these motor skills listed above are mastered by practicing a variety of skills over and over again; learning from mistakes, and persisting with the task without giving up.

Learn more about fine motor and gross motor skill development in our Early Learning Training Manual

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