Motor Plan Development and Early Intervention

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By Callie Lodico, teli Physical Therapist

As children grow they begin to build upon a host of skills that govern strength and movement to develop what physical therapists call a “Motor Plan”. This term describes the mastering of a combination of fine and gross motor skills that coordinate your body’s movement and enable you to stand or walk.

Standing up is a perfect example that our teli physical therapists often shared with parents. When rising from a seat your body knows the sequence: first you must brace yourself with your hand; then you stabilize your abdominals to support lifting your body weight.  In this manner, your postural muscles are supporting you while your movement muscles move you.  

With early intervention, our teli staff focuses on helping children develop the skills sequence with the long-term goal of establishing their motor plan. A good motor plan will help them play, move, and experience their environment safely.

Motor Plan Development and Early Intervention

Early Motor Plan Development- What should I be looking for?

What exactly is normal at a child’s specific age? This is a very frequent question asked by parents. Often parents may have observed other children grabbing their toes or beginning to roll over and are concerned that their child is not doing that and fear that something may be wrong.

In addition to monitoring developmental milestones, physical therapists can assess your child’s behavior and motor skills.  Based on their experience, physical therapists can identify an issue and develop a unique motor plan to help your child and put your mind at ease. 

What should my child demonstrate as they begin to develop the foundation for their “Motor Plan”?

Development of a child’s motor plan begins in infancy and continues throughout the child’s life. The following are examples of early learning activities to look for in your child in the 2-3-month range that are the first signs of developing the foundation for their motor plan:

  • Grabbing their hands and feet bringing things to their mouth
  • Comfort on their tummies with their arms tucked under their chest
  • Cuddle into your shoulder when being held vs pulling away and becoming rigid

Why is a Motor Plan so important?

A motor plan is extremely important and foundational to a child’s ability to explore their environment through movement from initially crawling to walking and beyond. A mobile child is better able to play with others and develop important social skills. This enables the child to learn how to share and engage with others, a very important part of their social-emotional growth in addition to physical development.

How can I help my child begin to develop their Motor Plan?

The best way to help your child develop the foundational skills needed for a long healthy life is to get down on the floor with your child, engage them and help them learn from the behavior you model!

Floor play will help to strengthen the muscles needed for posture control (abdominal, shoulder, hip and back muscles) as well as movement control (arm and leg muscles) that all combine to help your child develop their motor plan. Here are some suggestions to consider.

  • Tummy time – Early on at age 2-3 months tummy time is extremely important. Put your child’s arms under their chest and put a small wrapped up towel under them as illustrated in the accompanying picture.  You might also place them on your belly and face them while singing a song.
  • All fours workout – While on all fours, have your child reach out alternating arms for a preferred toy.  You can assist your child by elevating the surface their hands are resting on or by placing your hand just above their diaper to help them to weight shift. 
  • Tummy abdominals – Lying on the floor, lift your shoulders and legs and hold for 5 seconds – also known as “supermans”!  Help your child model with your support.
  • Cross body activity –   While in all fours or seated, have them reach into a box of small objects and place an item in a bag on the opposite side so they are reaching from the left and placing into the right side.  This activity helps to build balance and strength and orients children to midline through the cross-body reach.

Early Intervention Services can help your child develop a motor plan – to master fine and gross motor skills – enabling them to reach their full potential. If you have questions, call teli at 412-922-8322.

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