You have probably found that your three-year-old child loves to run and jump and hop and throw.
Even though she isn’t yet ready to qualify for the Olympic Games, she wants your attention (“Watch me! Watch me!”) and your applause (“Good job!”) after completing a three-inch high jump or a six-inch long jump.
But childcare experts will tell you that these activities and requests for approval are more than “play.” These activities are an important part of developing perceptual-motor skills.
When childcare and early learning experts speak of perception and perceptual development, they are referring to the brain’s ability to interpret information received through the senses (sound, sight, taste, smell and touch).
In many activities, a child’s muscles must work in conjunction with his or her physical perception of the world around him (eye-hand coordination, for example). The ability to combine motor activity with perception is referred to as perceptual-motor skill.
Perceptual-motor skills play an important part in later school-related activities such as reading, writing and arithmetic as well as sports.
The foundations for perceptual-motor development are laid during the early childhood years. That is why it’s smart to focus attention on your child’s development of fine- motor skills (finger dexterity, for example) and gross-motor skills (activities involving the larger muscles) during this particular period of their lives.
You, your daycare, infant child care experts, preschool or early childhood learning centers have probably noticed over the past few months that your child’s fine-motor skills are improving. For example, she can now pick up very small objects with her fingers; but she is still somewhat clumsy at times.
When doing a simple puzzle, for example, she may see a piece that clearly belongs in a certain space. But her fingers somehow cannot get it to fit correctly. She may even pound the piece with her fist to try to make it fit.
Parents and child care providers can tell many stories of three-year-olds who love to stack objects on top of one another. In fact, they can sometimes build remarkably tall towers. In building these towers, they are improving their visual and fine-motor skills.
But since they haven’t yet learned that the largest objects must go on the bottom, the whole tower may come crashing down when they try to put a large object on top.
There is also dramatic improvement in the child’s gross-motor skills such as walking, running, jumping, and throwing.
It probably won’t surprise you that researchers and childcare professionals have found that three-year-olds have a higher activity level than at any other age in their life cycle. They run, fall, roll, get up and then run some more. Even though we all may find it a bit exhausting at times, remember that it’s this spurt of energy that’s teaching them how to maneuver their bodies through the world at large.