Understanding Motor Planning

Posted by Lisa Josephsen

Elite Method - Kids ColoringBasic tasks, such as brushing teeth, tying shoes, buttoning a shirt all seem like simple movements. But, for a child, learning these new tasks often takes a few tries, as well as a series of requirements in the mind and body that add up to what is referred to as motor planning. Through successful motor planning, these movements become automatic. But, for some children, motor planning might be a struggle.

What is Motor Planning?

Motor planning is the preparation and execution of a movement. It’s the ability to process information from various sensory systems, including seeing, touching, hearing and more to plan and execute a movement in the correct order.

Motor planning involves drawing on past experiences to come up with a plan for the new experience, as well as good body awareness to be able to complete the task within the child’s current environment.

Motor planning components

Ideation: Before starting a movement, an idea has to spark, often through a physical cue. For example, if a child sees a coloring book, he/she might decide to color a page. Coloring the page becomes the goal for the movement.

Planning: When the idea is created, the mind has to first plan how to accomplish this goal. It figures out how it wants to move the body in a specific sequence to accomplish the task. For coloring, this would be how to open the crayon box, pull out the crayon, and then move the crayon back and forth on the paper.

Execution: Once the plan is ready, the brain sends messages to the muscles to simultaneously coordinate and execute the planned movements and actually do the task.   

Adaptation: Things don’t always go as planned, and we have to adapt to changes. Through execution, adaption is required to make the necessary corrections that might be needed to meet the goal developed during ideation. For example, if the crayon is used down to the crayon’s paper, the child has to figure out how to remove the paper to continue coloring.

What are signs of difficulty with motor planning?

Children that struggle with motor planning may have trouble with activities that require a series of movements. Elite Method’s clinical expert Dr. Allison Mell says children may have difficulty getting dressed in the morning. They may also seem unsure how to interact or move their body during games like duck, duck goose or have troubles seating themselves correctly in a circle or in a line in school.

How to help improve motor planning:

Motor planning is a sensory experience that relies on body awareness for successful completion. Using sensory exercises helps children learn to organize information from their environment and, therefore, build better motor planning skills.

Dr. Mell suggests that a game of catch is a great way to improve motor planning.

“The body has to move in response to the ball and figure out how much force to use when throwing,” said Dr. Mell.

She also suggests Simon Says and songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes for younger children as they require them to think and move in response to direction.

How we help

Elite Method private coaches work with our clinical experts to develop customized plans for each child. When help is needed with motor planning, we integrate specialized exercises and tasks into the session’s routine to help the child improve these skills. With the introduction of new tasks in each session, the child is repeatedly working through motor planning, improving with each week.

To learn more about how Elite Method can help your child, contact us today.