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What Are Motor Skills?

By Nicky Sutton
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Motor skills are the ability to make particular bodily movements to achieve certain tasks. They are a way of controlling muscles to make fluid and accurate movements. These skills must be learned, practiced and mastered, and overtime can be performed without thought, for example, walking or swimming. Children are clumsy in comparison to adults, because they have yet to learn many motor skills that allow them to effectively accomplish tasks.

Combinations of muscular movements produce sequences of bodily movements that are learned and refined in order to accomplish specific tasks. These skills are the way we move our body in certain situations, where movement and action are required. The child learns which muscles to use and how to control them with the help of other factors such as sight and coordination; the skill of movement is mastered.

Babies are born with an immature and underdeveloped nervous system that needs to learn about the world through experiences. Children’s nervous systems develop over time and skills such as reaching and grasping a cup and bringing it to the mouth, are learned. A newborn baby would not be able to accomplish such a task, but over time, through practice, skills are fine tuned.

Childhood experiences play a role in the development of motor skills. When the human brain is allowed to experience movement such as running, climbing or sailing, it stores the experiences and is better able to accomplish them next time. The child who is taken fishing frequently will be a better fisherman than the child who goes fishing only once. This is because these skills are learned, such as how to cast the rod and how to balance in a boat.

Children repeat actions over and over until they are refined, for example, climbing steps without tripping. Motor skills become more fluid and accurate, removing characteristic childhood clumsiness. Practice is performed until no thought is required to perform the skills, for example, riding a bike.

Motor skills are also learned and refined in adulthood. If a woman takes up belly dancing, her first movements will not closely resemble that of the teacher. Overtime however, she will learn how to control her muscles to make the signature movements that a belly dancer makes.

Genetic factors also affect the development of motor skills, for example, the children of a professional dancer are far more likely to be good at dancing, with good coordination and muscular control, than the children of a biochemist. Gross motor skills are usually learned during childhood and require a large group of muscles to perform actions, such as balancing or crawling. Fine motor skills involve smaller groups of muscles and are used for fine tasks, such as threading a needle or playing a computer game. These skills can be forgotten if disused over time.

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