Why are Motor Planning Challenges on the Rise?

Over the last 6 months as an OT Practice working with young children we have noticed an increase in children struggling with Motor Planning. Parents and teachers have been picking up that their children have been struggling more and more in this area. On reflection on why this may be, we suspect that it may be linked to the pandemic and resulting lockdown periods. Out of necessity children have been spending far more time on screens than ever before and less time actively playing and doing 3-dimensional tasks.  

Motor planning or praxis is the ability to come up with an idea, plan and then smoothly execute the idea as a movement. It is important to distinguish between cognitive planning (a process that happens mostly on a brain level) and motor planning (which happens on a body level). Many children are very creative and have fantastic ideas but struggle to get these ideas to translate into action. For example, cognitive planning would be making a mental list of what you may need to make supper this evening and motor planning would be used when you learn a new skill, such as learning to ride a bicycle or drive a car. As adults we don’t tend to motor plan a lot because activities have become more automatic for us. For children, however, who learn new skills every day, motor planning forms a big part of their development. 

Just as some adults learn how to drive a car easily, showing good praxis, others will take longer to learn this skill. It is the same with children. Some children will be able to run up to a jungle gym and seem to have ideas of how to navigate their way around the obstacles without thinking, others watch first and are slower to take action. Having good praxis skills as a child is not only linked to outdoor play. Children who struggle in this area also display a slower work pace in the classroom, tend to talk through tasks rather than simply executing them and watch others around them to help them get started on school tasks. All this leads to them struggling to complete tasks on time. 

Children with motor planning difficulties use more mental energy and cognitive planning to compensate for inadequate praxis skills. This can be tiring and frustrating as they try to keep up with their classmates and the pace in the classroom. Have you noticed this tendency in your home or classroom? We would love to hear your thoughts on why you think this is and what you are seeing and experiencing as parents, teachers and therapists. Watch this space next week for some tips and strategies to help your children improve this important skill.

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