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Motor Planning

Posted By Kim Guess and Sarah Hickey  

Motor Planning


Motor planning is part of a group of skills that help us move our body the way we want to. This includes the upper limbs and hands (fine motor), body (gross motor), mouth and tongue movements (oral-motor), and/or eyes (oculomotor). These skills are used in everyday tasks from brushing teeth and washing hands to skipping and kicking or catching a ball.


Motor planning refers to the ability to conceive, plan, and carry out a skilled, non-habitual motor act in the correct sequence from beginning to end. It relies on sensory feedback from the body and the environment as well as on language, memory and cognitive or thinking skills.


It involves understanding what needs to be done (forming an idea within the brain), working out how to carrying out the task (eg which steps need to be done first), before actually doing the task (co-ordinating the body and movements to achieve the desired result).

Some activities may seem automatic as they are performed however, there are small planning and adjusting steps being taken frequently throughout the task.


As a child, when learning a task, the task is often demonstrated i.e. hop scotch or tying shoelaces, the brain then needs to process how the body will actually perform these movements. Take learning to tie shoelaces as an example- steps are broken down, deliberate adjustments are made and the movement is slower whilst we are practising however, once the action is familiar, less cognitive effort is require to perform the action. The task becomes quick and efficient and if corrections are required, they are done so relatively easily.


Difficulties with Motor Planning


During an action, the brain usually gets feedback about what the body is doing and with practise, makes small changes to improve performance. The movement becomes more coordinated and efficient and the brain and body are able to complete the action more automatically.


Children with motor planning difficulties however, have trouble learning from the feedback they receive from their body. They may find it hard to plan and organise the movements needed to carry out age appropriate motor skills in a smooth and coordinated manner.


Children with motor planning difficulties may:

  • Have difficulty learning new tasks;
  • Appear clumsy or uncoordinated;
  • Be slow to perform seemingly simple tasks;
  • Have handwriting problems;
  • Demonstrate inconsistent performance;
  • Have difficulty with timing and rhythm;
  • Have difficulty with spatial organisation (organisation of items/ self in relation to others)

Occupational Therapists are experts at analysing a task and determining where the difficulty arises in order to improve performance and confidence.


If your child displays any of the above mentioned difficulties please feel free to contact Kids First OT for more information or to book an assessment.