In our last article, we dove into the importance of experiences that aid in a child's development, and the ways that we can design games for them, particularly those with neurological difficulties, that target specific areas of their development, that will equip them for life.Tara Delaney explains this in her book, '101 Games and Activities for Children with Autism, Asperger's and Sensory Processing Disorders'.
In this article, we'll get into the details of the development of gross motor skills in children... what it entails, how to spot a child who may be struggling in this area of development, and how to support them through targeted activities.(If you just want to see the game details, scroll to the end of this article!)
"If there is a glitch in the wiring of the motor planning system, new skills do not easily move from conscious control to automatic control. If a child's brain and body are not planning and executing together, they use up a lot of cognitive energy trying to figure out how to physically interact with their environment."
ps. If you haven't already, we recommend you take a quick look at our previous article before getting into this one - the link is just below.
The game we'll lay out at the end of this article will target gross motor skills. Now, what exactly does this include? Gross motor skills rely on the effective sensory processing of loads of differing skills and systems, but most notably the body senses : tactile (touch), proprioceptive (body position) and vestibular (balance and motion) processing.
Gross motor skills also require an understanding of the properties of our physical world, and coordinated motor actions call for sufficient muscle tone, trunk control and muscle strength.
If all the above are present, and effective, then to key to 'good; motor skills is effective motor planning. Now, what does this entail?
Basically, it involves the process of the brain telling the body what to do - praxis is the bridge between brain processing and motor control and involves 3 stages: ideation, motor planning and execution. Tara Delaney states that 'the communication between the brain and body allows us to accomplish new tasks as well as familiar ones.'
She goes on to state that if there is a glitch in the wiring of the motor planning system, new skills do not easily move from conscious control to automatic control. If a child's brain and body are not planning and executing together, they use up a lot of cognitive energy trying to figure out how to physically interact with their environment.
In addition to this children who are experiencing this praxis difficulty, do not readily generate ideas that often put them into contact with the world around them.
Here's some examples of a child who may be struggling in this way:
She wants to join other children at playing a game at lunch break but because of these difficulties, will walk the perimeter of the playground because she doesn't know how to enter the game. Another sure sign is that a child continuously moves to the back of a line, as children are lining up for a physical activity.
The child who's motor planning system is fully aligned and functioning may behave as follows:
She will look at the playground, see her friend at the top of the slide, run full steam ahead, wind around boys playing with a football, continue to run under another ball being tossed through the air by two older children, slow down just enough to lift her right foot onto the ladder to climb up to the slide, and scare her friend from behind.
Difficulties with motor planning can affect gross motor (running, climbing cycling) as well as fine motor skills (writing, threading, picking up a small toy or crumb) as well as the motor skills required for smooth speech.
Now, it's time for a game! Taken from the book 101 Games and Activities for Children with Autism by Tara Delaney.
BEANBAG TOSS - with varying levels according to each child's capability, each step in the game offers greater challenges for motor planning and visual skills development!
~ Can be played outdoors or indoors
~ 6 beanbags
Place the bucket about 5 feet away from the front of the chair. Have the child walk around the chair. When the child gets to the front of the chair, have the child toss the beanbags into the bucket. Progressively get farther away with successful tosses into the bucket.
Have the child walk in a straight line or figure eight, about 10 feet away from the bucket and attempt to toss the beanbags into the bucket, which remains in a fixed position.
The child remains in a fixed place, and someone moves the bucket around in a pattern (either straight line or figure 8) Again, toss the beanbags into the moving bucket.
Standing about 10 feet from the bucket, the child begins to move along a line, and you move the bucket along a parallel line.
Here's a breakdown of the different areas this game targets;
Motor Planning: this activity works on the execution phase of the praxis, as detailed before (final phase of motor planning) It's a more advanced motor activity that requires being able to throw a beanbag with graded force as well as appropriate directionality.
Visual Motor Skills: the activity requires tossing the beanbag based on changing visual information (length and direction)
Visual Tracking: The activity requires the eyes to track a moving object when the child is in a fixed position, as well as concentrate on the immobile object while the child is moving.
Visual Fixation: The child must focus on the bucket long enough to comprehend where the target is.
In some upcoming articles, we'll outline some more games from the text, and the purposes behind it. Make sure to join our mailing list to be notified!