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Sensory Motor Skills: What are they and why are they important?

Occupational Therapy Staff
April 17, 2019

Sensory motor skills are the basic foundation for learning. All the activities and movement we did as infants, toddlers and children help prepare our body and our brain to learn. These skills are essential to develop the ability to participate in classroom activities and affects academic achievements.

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What are sensory motor skills?

Sensory and motor skills build on the foundation of our innate abilities. Sensory skills are those such as vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste, vestibular (for balance and head position in space), and proprioception (information from the muscles and joints). They are responsible for receiving information. Motor skills relate to muscles and movement and include crawling, walking, running, handwriting, and speaking. Motor skills give expression to the information our senses receive and process.

What specific skills are considered sensory motor skills?

Body in space – Knowing where your body is in space helps you know where you are in relation to people and objects and leads to the development of visual motor skills. Visual motor skills are essential in learning to write, in social interaction by knowing boundaries of proximity, and even in driving skills.

Laterality – Knowing how to cross the midline of the body, knowing right from left and, eye tacking movements comprise laterality. The development of this skill is essential in learning how to read, write and for proficient brain function.

Balance – Development of balance is promoted through the use of your vestibular system, present in your inner ear.  A higher level of balance has been shown to stimulate the growth and enlargement of neural networks which in turn cause the communication systems to grow and develop.

Centering – Centering is the ability to cross the midline top to bottom.  If centering is not developed, a student will walk completely disconnected, as though the legs are working independently of the rest of your child’s body.  This leads to poor coordination in sports; disorganization in his room and classroom desk; messy personal appearance; this child is overwhelmed

Why are sensory motor skills important?

Sensory motor skills are the basic foundation for learning. These skills are essential to develop the ability to participate in classroom activities and affects academic achievements. Physical activities promote dual processing of the brain which is the integrated use of both hemispheres of the brain, a critical component for learning.

How can I support the development of sensory motor skills in my child?

  • Encourage movement in your child that uses both sides of the body.
  • Incorporate right and left movements into your daily routines.
  • Engage in silly play at home by doing animal walks (i.e. bear walk, crab walk) and tumble on the floor to encourage skills that involve both sides of the body.
  • Support your child in exploring all the structures while playing at the park.
  • Create opportunities for your child to explore various textures during tactile play – water, sand, beans, rice, and even shaving cream can provide endless hours of fun for your child while being beneficial for her growth.

If you have questions about the sensory motor development of your child, please contact us for an appointment with one of our occupational therapists.

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