Glossary of Skill Areas for Child Development Activities
The following are descriptions of pediatric skill areas achieved during regular playtime, developed as necessary through physical therapy, and featured in our Activities to Promote Development in Children:
Balance is the ability to maintain the line of gravity of a body within the base of support, with minimal postural sway. Sway is the horizontal movement of the center of gravity, even when a person is standing still. In other words, having good balance is being able to sit up or stand in 1 position without falling. Since our eyes are used for balance as well as our bones and muscles, closing your eyes and trying to stay in a sitting or standing position is a simple test of good balance.
Bilateral Coordination is the use of both sides of your body at the same time. In other words, having bilateral coordination means being able to perform activities that involve using both sides of your body together for tasks like skipping, clapping your hands, riding a bike, or performing jumping jacks.
Cognitive Skills refer to the capabilities of the brain to process information, apply knowledge, and change preferences. In other words, cognitive skills are a measure of your brain’s ability to understand everything around you. You can observe people, objects, and places in your world and know what they are and what they do. Your child can plan activities to interact and participate with other people, objects, or places, like going to a friend’s house to play, taking a game to share, and forgetting to leave on time because your child is focused on the new activities. You can use cognitive skills to think, plan, organize, solve problems, remember, and take action on the things you have thought and planned.
Coordination is the combination of body movements created with direction and force that result in intended actions. Motor coordination is achieved when subsequent parts of the same movement or the movements of several body parts are combined in a manner that is well timed, smooth, and efficient with respect to the intended goal. In other words, coordination is the ability to move different parts of your body together easily and skillfully. Dancing well is an example of good coordination. Children and adults can improve coordination by practicing a task many times, in different ways, and with different speeds. Dropping and catching a ball, while walking or picking up small objects with a spoon and placing them in a container are tasks used to improve coordination.
Endurance is the ability to demonstrate sustained effort without physical fatigue. In other words, endurance is the ability to perform an activity for a long time without getting too tired. Toddlers and young children have short bouts of endurance at tasks like running. For example, they will run around at a shopping mall, and then suddenly be exhausted. In a few minutes, they can run again. Older children and adolescents have more endurance and can play or engage in sports for long periods of time. Adults may lose endurance as they age.
Fine Motor Skills are the coordination of small muscle movements that occur in body parts, such as the fingers, usually in coordination with the eyes. In other words, fine motor skills require you to use your hands for tasks, such as drawing a picture, feeding yourself, or handling small objects like coins. People who can pick up objects with their toes are using fine motor skills of the foot. Some examples include:
- Finger Isolation is the ability to separate the use of the fingers individually or in groups. In other words, finger isolation is the use of the fingers, 1 at a time or together. Playing a piano requires isolating 1 finger from another. Other examples of this ability include snapping your fingers, pointing to a picture, counting using your fingers, and other finger games.
- In-Hand Manipulation is the ability to move and position objects within 1 hand without the assistance of the other hand. In other words, in-hand manipulation involves moving objects from your fingertips to your palms or vice versa. Hiding coins or candy in your palm and then popping them out to the fingertips uses this skill.
- Grasp is the ability to pick up and hold objects with the hand. In other words, grasp is the ability to seize and hold something firmly with your hand. We use grasp to pick up a cup and hold it, or to hold onto an overhead bar and swing. Infants use a full-hand grasp to hold a bottle. As they get older, children learn to use a "pincer" grasp with the thumb and first finger to pick up a small bite of food, or a "tripod" or "3-finger" grasp to hold a pen for writing.
Flexibility is the distance of motion of a joint, which may be increased by stretching. In other words, flexibility is the amount of motion a joint or group of joints makes when moving easily as far as the joint or joints are supposed to move. If muscles get tight or joints get damaged, flexibility may be lost, and stretching may be helpful to restore flexibility. Participating in the singing game, “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” while touching both hands to each body part is 1 way to help maintain flexibility.
Gross Motor Skills are abilities usually acquired during infancy and early childhood as part of a child’s motor development. By the time they reach 2 years of age, almost all children are able to stand up, walk and run, walk up stairs, etc. These skills are built upon, improved and better controlled throughout early childhood, and continue in refinement throughout most of the individual’s years of development into adulthood. These gross movements come from large muscle groups and whole body movements. These skills develop in a head-to-toe order. The children will typically learn head control, trunk stability, and then standing up and walking. In other words, gross motor skills are large, total body movements. Many muscles work at the same time to allow such movements as rolling over, standing up from sitting in a chair, walking, running, climbing onto playground equipment, or playing a sport.
Midline Crossing means that 1 hand moves over to the opposite side of the body to complete a task. In other words, the ability to cross the midline of your body skillfully allows you to perform tasks like writing on a piece of paper from left to right. We read by having the eyes cross the midline to follow the words from left to right. Touching the other shoulder or the opposite foot requires crossing the midline. Skillfully playing most sports, like kicking a soccer ball, hitting a ball with a racket, or swinging a golf club requires midline crossing.
Motor Control is the process by which humans organize and execute their actions. It is the integration of sensory information, both about the world and the current state of the body, to determine the appropriate set of muscle forces and joint activations to generate some desired movement or action. Successful motor control is crucial to interacting with the world, not only determining action capabilities, but regulating balance and stability as well. In other words, people use their neurologic system (brain and nerves) and their musculoskeletal system (bones and muscles) for neuromuscular control of all movements (motor control). We gain motor control by practicing a task over and over until the task can be performed skillfully, then we must perform that task in a variety of situations for the body to automatically recall the control. A child might learn to shoot a basketball into a basketball hoop at her house by practicing. Then she must shoot the ball into hoops at various other places, like a friend’s house, the school, and a stadium to gain good motor control over shooting basketballs in any environment.
Motor Skills are learned sequences of movement that combine to produce a smooth, efficient action in order to master a particular task. These movements are further broken down into fine and gross motor skills. In other words, all the large and small movements we make are motor skills. With healthy motor skills, we can perform a huge variety of tasks, ranging from writing a sentence to combing our hair, walking up a ramp, tapping our fingers or feet in time to music, running to catch up with someone, picking up small objects, and dancing with a partner. The list is endless.
Posture refers to the stabilizing and aligning of the body in relation to spaces and objects in the environment. In other words, postures are the positions we hold our body in throughout the day. For example, we can sit up straight in a chair (a typical desired posture) or slouch, which is also a posture. Children and adults need to be able to hold a variety of postures to function well. The “strike a pose” imitation game can be a good way to encourage a variety of postures.
Prewriting Skills are the developmental precursor to handwriting. These skills lay the foundation for later developing complex handwriting skills. In other words, prewriting skills are the movements that children make with their fingers and hands that allow them to eventually learn to write. Holding a crayon and scribbling are prewriting skills, but learning to trace lines or letters, color pictures, and draw shapes are prewriting skills that best promote handwriting.
Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body, and the strength of effort being employed in movement and posturing. In other words, proprioception is the awareness of where the entire body and its parts are in space. It is the ability to sense that your arm is out straight to push an object, or bent at the elbow above your head to catch a ball. Most of the time, children move and play without an active awareness of proprioception, but children with motor skill difficulties can improve their skills by becoming more aware of their body positions and movements.
Sensory Integration is the neurological process that organizes sensations from one’s own body and from the environment, and makes it possible to use the body to make adaptive responses within the environment.1 In other words, we put together all the information our senses (vision, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, body awareness) can perceive and use the information to maintain our posture, move, or change our movements. Sensory integration even affects our speaking and thinking. If we cannot perceive sensations accurately, we might make the wrong decisions. Children who have good sensory integration recognize such things as how to wait their turn in a playground, and how to use the playground equipment safely. Children with sensory integrative problems might get in line out of turn, and might not understand how to perform play tasks, such as stepping on a swinging bridge, or climbing a playground structure.
Social Skills are any skills that facilitate interaction and communication with others. In other words, we use social skills to talk and relate to other people. Social skills are sometimes referred to as “people skills.” Each culture develops social rules about how to perform with other people. Knowing how close to stand to someone, how loud or quiet to be in a conversation, how to say polite things, how much emotion to share, how to interpret the facial responses of other people, and how to take turns are examples of social skills.
Strength means having physical power, energy, and the capacity to exert force. In other words, strong muscles and the ability to use those muscles with control gives us strength to resist forces against the body, or to apply force to other objects. For instance, if someone pushes us in a crowd, strength is one of the factors that keep us from falling down. Good strength allows us to perform a huge range of tasks—for instance, to pull a sweater over our heads, ride a bicycle, carry a heavy grocery bag, or push a lawn mower.
Trunk (Core) Stability is the strength of the middle of your body, your postural-control muscles, including the abdominal wall, diaphragm, pelvis, and lower back. Core stability is important in development of bilateral coordination skills, midline crossing, gross and fine motor skills, and balance. In other words, your trunk has many important muscles that contribute to the function of your body. Core stability helps you maintain a good posture and keep your balance during a wide range of movement activities like walking, pushing a vacuum, running and looking backwards to catch a football, or sitting and passing heavy dishes of food at the dinner table.
Visual Motor Integration refers to the ability to coordinate motor output with visual input. In other words, visual motor integration allows the eyes and hands, or other parts of the body to work together in a coordinated manner. Finger painting, working a jigsaw puzzle, or following a line through a maze in a coloring book are examples of a child's ability to integrate vision and movement of the hands. Kicking a ball rolled to you is an example of integrating vision and movement of the leg and foot.
Visual Perceptual Skills are a group of skills used to gather visual information from the environment and integrate them with our other senses. In other words, when we look at something and understand what it is, we are using visual perception. We gather information with our eyes, we store the information in our brains, we compare that information to other information we have stored, and we use the information later when needed. Children use visual perception skills when they recognize a bear from a picture book as the same animal as their stuffed bear, their small toy plastic bear, a jelly candy bear, and the real bear they saw at the zoo.