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What is Motor Planning?

Motor planning is a set of skills that help us to coordinate movements, navigate obstacles and perform routine tasks. It is how we think of and understand (ideation) a motor task, plan out the order of steps to carry out a motor task (sequencing) and coordinate our muscles to successfully perform a motor task (execution). Motor planning skills are required to perform a range of gross and fine motor movements from climbing up a set of stairs or brushing your teeth.

As we grow older, motor tasks become more automatic because we have performed them so many times, we don’t need to consciously plan them as much. There may be some new things, like learning to drive a car, where we have to think and plan harder but for children, lots of things are new to them and require conscious motor planning to master the steps involved.

Motor Planning Difficulties

Children who easily get in a muddle or have difficulty dressing, writing or learning to swim or ride a bike often have a problem with motor planning. They may have trouble in the ideation, sequencing or execution of different motor tasks. Signs that your child may have motor planning difficulties include:

  • Struggle to learn new tasks
  • Clumsy or uncoordinated movement
  • Slow to perform seemingly simple, routine tasks
  • Inconsistency in performance of tasks
  • Difficulty performing two or more tasks at once
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Lack of spatial awareness and organisation
  • Lack of timing and rhythm
  • Avoids trying new things

Children who continue to experience motor planning difficulties as they grow older may also develop low self-esteem, lack confidence and have difficulty making friends due to being unable to participate in the same activities.

Tips for supporting children with motor planning difficulties

Practising skills will help children with poor motor planning ability become more confident. There are many things you can do to help children improve their motor planning.

Use simple language

Thinking about all the different steps to complete a sequence of steps can be difficult for children with motor planning difficulties so keep language simple to help them better understand what they need to do to complete a task.

Break new skills down into smaller steps

Guide your child through a task by providing one instruction at a time. This will help them to better follow instructions and reduce anxiety over learning a new skill.

Start with the simplest movement first

Practice the individual movements that make up a task, gradually increasing the degree of difficulty as your child gains confidence in the simpler movements.

Use visual aids

Create a chart with pictures of each step required to complete a task to help your child ideate and plan the actions.

Physically assist your child when needed

Guide your child through tasks to help them build confidence.

Motor planning activities for kids

Here are some exercises for children needing help with motor planning.

  • Obstacle courses – arrange some obstacles for children to walk around or climb over.
  • Ladder walk – let the child try to walk between the rungs forward, backward and sideways, then carrying something such as a beachball or box.
  • Stepping in and out of boxes.
  • Walking along a straight line, a zig zag line and a circle.
  • Running and walking while keeping a balloon up in the air.
  • Sitting on a scooter board.
  • Riding a bike or a tricycle.
  • Roll the child in a sheet or large towel and let them unroll.
  • Let the child roll along floor or down a slight incline.

If you’re worried about your child’s motor planning, we recommend discussing this with an occupational therapist.

Ready to Learn Course open on laptop with workbook open on desk

OT Skills Learning Resource

Learning Links’ multidisciplinary team of speech pathologists, psychologists and educators, in consultation with occupational therapists, have developed an online learning resource for parents and professionals to support children’s motor development and sensory regulation at home and in the classroom.

The Ready to Learn online learning resource is available in two age-appropriate packages – The Early Years and The School Years.