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Why is perceptual-motor development important?

(Adapted From The Minnesota Learning Resource Center)

Special message to parents and teachers

Often in our rush to give children a head start in pursuit of academic excellence we, as parents and educators, overlook a vital part of development. The motor system forms a foundation for growth and expansion of learning. It must be carefully nurtured.


The brain controls the muscles of the body, and the ability of the brain to send the proper signals to these muscles depends upon, among other things, previous experiences. Walking, eye movement, balancing, throwing, writing, and doing somersaults are all motor activities that are performed by muscles, dictated by the brain, and dependent upon thousands of previous experiences. Some activities require large muscle coordination, such as jumping rope. Others, such as drawing a square, depend upon fine (small) muscle movement from both eyes and fingers. Much of basic school readiness depends upon many muscles working together. When one considers the complexity of jumping rope, we know that the coordination of leg, hand, eye, and arm muscles and the precision of the muscle control and coordination is fantastic!

Just standing, for example, depends on the proper tension and extension of 200 opposing muscles.

Body movement of the newborn child starts with random movement of large (gross motor) muscles, and by the time school starts, a very complex communication system between brain and muscles must be developed. Each progressive step requires a series of developmental experiences. A child must first crawl before walking and walk before they run. Each milestone is an indicator of previous successes in movement. The eyes must work as a coordinated pair of range finders. Two eyes working together are necessary to determine distance and effectively track across a page. This skill is enhanced by successful experiences is catching a rolled and then thrown ball earlier in life.

Writing the alphabet will depend on the abilities of the eyes and brain and muscles to work together. Fine muscle control in the fingers, necessary for writing, can be aided by many games that require finger manipulation. Blocks, puzzles, stringing beads, and coloring are examples of activities that help to develop and hone fine muscle control.

It is important to note that all communication skills like reading, writing, speech and gesturing are motor-based activities. Children who are deprived of a wide variety of movement experiences, especially through natural play opportunities, run the risk of perceptual and motor impairment. The child who climbs, rides a bicycle, skates, teeters on a balance board, tumbles on the carpet, and jumps on the bed has a better chance for good coordination that does the well-behaved child who sits placidly in a chair minding their manners or watching television. Movement experiences become a vital part of the normal development for all children. We cannot afford to leave motor development to chance.

Catching and throwing a ball is often too complex an activity for a four-year-old. He or she must first be able to stop a rolled ball. To do this requires an estimation of its arrival time and bringing the hands together at the right moment. This involves fingers, arms, and eyes. The next step might be catching a large size bouncing ball, then a medium size ball through directly to the hands and finally a small ball.