Motor skills are the basic movements that underlie all physical games and activities. An understanding of how to improve students’ basic motor skills enhances the quality of a physical education program.

Motor Skills

Walking, running, stretching, bending, catching, and throwing are all motor skills. They are the building blocks of all games and activities in physical education class, sports, and daily life. Enhancing the quality of students’ motor skills can enhance the quality of the activities in a physical education program and the daily lives of students.

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Kelly teaches physical education at an elementary school with students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. Kelly will use her knowledge of the types of motor skills to observe the class and guide them to success. The skills that are taught and the way they are introduced will vary from grade to grade and class to class, but in a way, students will all be working on the same things: motor skills.

Motor skills are actions that require the use of muscles in specific ways to achieve a desired outcome. These abilities are learned and developed from an early age and can continue to develop through instruction. Motor skills are combined to create games and activities.

Types of Motor Skills

There are three main types of motor skills: locomotor, nonlocomotor, and manipulative. Each has specific sills associated with it.

  1. Locomotor skills are actions that move the body from one space to another. Examples include: running, skipping, leaping, and hopping.
  2. Nonlocomotor skills are actions that take place in one spot. Examples include: bending, reaching, stretching, and balancing.
  3. Manipulative skills are actions that involve the control and handling of an object. Examples include: throwing, catching, kicking a ball, striking, and hula-hooping.

Integrating Motor Skills Practice

One way to ensure that specific, discrete practice of motor skills is incorporated into a physical education class is to use stations as a warm up activity. To identify which skills need reinforcement, a teacher should carefully monitor the class. When a specific motor skill is noted as needing attention, the teacher can incorporate stations to address the skill. The teacher may also choose to set up motor skill stations prior to introducing a game or activity.

Remember Kelly, the elementary school physical education teacher? She has been watching her students and noticed that many of them are demonstrating limited flexibility, and she will soon be introducing a unit on soccer. She may choose to set up a selection of stations for the class warm up activity. Students will have an opportunity to move through several short stations that address flexibility and motor skills related to soccer. Stations may include: a clock stretch, lunges, kicking a ball at a target, and dribbling a ball through some cones. The warm up would be short and allow the motor skills to be practiced in isolation.

Another method of integrating motor skills into a class is to play a game. Parachute games are popular activities to do with students and may seem like they are just-for-fun. However, while playing with a parachute, students have the opportunity to integrate motor skills from several different activities into a fun game. Students will manipulate the parachute with their hands, practice nonlocomotor pushing and pulling on the parachute, and then use locomotor skills to take turns crossing under the parachute in different ways.

Parachute games can be used to practice motor skills
Parachute games can be used to practice motor skills

Lesson Summary

Motor skills are the essential components of movement. The three types of motor skills are locomotor, moving the body through space; nonlocomotor, stationary actions; and manipulative, handling and controlling an object. Motor skills can be combined to create games and activities. When a student or a group is not progressing as expected, the underlying motor skills should be evaluated and addressed if there is a deficit noticed. There are many ways to practice and develop motor skills depending upon the age and needs of the students. Integrating motor skill practice in physical education classes through warm-up stations, drills, and game play can all be supported through careful observation by the teacher.