Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development
Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development is foundational to children's learning in all areas because it permits children to fully explore and function in their environment.
This area of development is represented as four elements: perception, gross motor, fine motor, and health, safety, and nutrition.
Perception refers to children's use of their senses to gather and understand information and respond to the world around them. The use of perceptual information is central to infants' and toddlers' interactions, exploration, and understanding of their experiences. It helps them to understand and direct their everyday experiences, such as pressing harder on clay than on play dough to make an art project or walking carefully on a slippery surface. Preschoolers also rely on perceptual information to develop greater awareness of their bodies in space and to move effectively to perform tasks, such as kicking a ball to a friend.
Motor skills support children in fully exploring their environment and interacting with people and things and thus, support development in all domains. Gross motor skills refer to moving the whole body and using larger muscles of the body, such as those in the arms and legs. In infancy, gross motor skills include gaining control of the head, neck, and torso to achieve a standing or sitting position. They also include locomotor skills that emerge in the toddler years, such as walking, throwing, and stretching. Preschoolers gain even greater control over their body, contributing to their increasing confidence and their ability to engage in social play. For example, as children learn to coordinate their movements, they are ready to learn how to pedal a tricycle and play tag.
Fine motor skills refer to using the small muscles found in individual body parts, especially those in the hands and feet. Children use their fine motor skills to grasp, hold, and manipulate small objects, such as their drinking cups, or to use tools, including scissors and paint brushes. As they gain hand-eye coordination, preschoolers learn to direct the movements of their fingers, hands, and wrists to perform more complex tasks, including drawing fine details or stringing small beads. Children can practice and refine both their fine and gross motor skills during a variety of learning experiences and while performing self-help routines, such as eating with a fork or putting on clothes.
The fourth element of Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development is health, safety, and nutrition. Children's physical well-being depends on a number of factors, including their knowledge and use of safe, healthy behaviors and routines. For example, toddlers are learning how to use a toothbrush with adult guidance. As preschoolers become more coordinated, they can add toothpaste to their own toothbrush. Children's ability to keep themselves safe and healthy, such as communicating to adults when they are hungry or sick, is extremely important in its own right and contributes to learning and development in all areas.
For many reasons, the rate and the path of perceptual, motor, and physical development vary in young children. Cultural and individual differences must be taken into account. In some cultures, children use brushes to write their names or utensils to eat that require a great deal of hand-eye coordination. Their fine motor development may differ from other children because of their life experiences. Children's food preferences are culturally-based, and they may reject foods that are usually considered healthy in other cultures. Children with disabilities may require more individualized instruction or accommodations. For example, children with physical disabilities may need adaptations, modifications, or assistive technology to help them move or hold implements. Children with sensory-motor integration challenges also may need accommodations. With appropriate support, all children can achieve strong outcomes in perceptual, motor, and physical development.
Last Reviewed: August 2015
Last Updated: August 11, 2015