How do children’s motor skills develop?

    • Topic: Human Biology

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    As young children grow, they develop the ability to control their body. They begin by developing large muscle coordination like holding up their head, crawling, and walking (gross motor skills). Then they begin to master more precise movements like speaking clearly and writing (fine motor skills). We are interested in documenting how motor skills develop in children.

    In this study, children (under 18) will be asked to perform a series of simple activities which let them show off their ability to move in different ways. These activities will include gross motor skills like balancing in different positions, walking in a straight line, and following objects with their fingers. They will also be asked to perform fine motor tasks such as speaking and making small hand motions.

    We want to find out how motor skills are different between children of different ages and at different levels of ability. Like adults, we expect that some children will have better coordination than others. We also predict that differences and ability will change with age.

    This research will help us establish, in children, a measure of healthy motor function during development. These tests may one day help us diagnose disorders in children, such as Ataxia, where people with problems with their cerebellum have difficulty coordinating their muscle movements.

    This research is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by the Massachusetts General Hospital Ataxia Unit and Laboratory for Neuroanatomy and Cerebellar Neurobiology.

        » Laboratory for Neuroanatomy and Cerebellar Neurobiology

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    Is Your Balance As Good It Gets?

    Our brains constantly receive signals from our eyes, inner ears, and muscles about the position of our bodies. Our brain uses this information to adjust our balance from moment to moment.

    Find the “Is Your Balance As Good As It Gets?” link station in the Time environment. Encourage your child to try the activity and then try it out yourself. How is your child’s balance different from yours? Who was able to complete the activity in the shortest time?

    After you have both had a chance to try out the activity, take a look at the “Age” graph with your child. Help your child identify the general trend shown in this graph for how balance changes with age. Do your individual results match the general trend?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Dizzy Drawing

    Just like keeping your balance, some other gross motor skills rely on signals from different parts of your body. Normally these signals match up and reinforce one another, but sometimes things get in the way. The most common example is being dizzy – your inner ears are telling you that you are spinning, while your eyes tell you that you’re standing still.

    Experiment with how being dizzy effects your motor skills. You can try this by repeating the activities in the study, such as walking in a straight line or tracing shapes and speaking. Does being dizzy affect your fine motor skills (drawing and talking) the same way it affects your gross motor skills (balancing and walking)? Why might they be different?

Research Spotlight

Contact Living Laboratory staff:

livinglaboratory@mos.org