One key part of motor development that is easy to overlook is the impact of a child’s personality. I tend to find children fall into one of four categories: is your child the Explorer, the Performer, the Engineer or the Observer? Take the quick quiz below, and find out how to guide your child’s play to embrace their strengths, and direct them out of their comfort zone.
You’ve just gotten up for the day, and Dad is in the kitchen getting breakfast ready. How does your child keep himself entertained as the weetbix is poured and the coffee is made?
A) Eddie moves from one toy to the other, tipping out blocks and opening up the toy box. He becomes distracted by all the excellent things in the kitchen, and is soon pulling things out of the cupboard, unpacking the dishwasher and trying to fit out the dog door.
B) Olive starts in the kitchen watching Dad make breakfast, but soon decides watching Mum do her hair and put on her make up is much more interesting so heads to the bathroom.
C) Penny heads straight to her toy kitchen and starts whipping up a gourmet feast, insisting Mum tries her coffee first before drinking her own.
D)Elliot alternates between playing with his duplo blocks and the animal puzzle that makes noises when you get the pieces in.
It’s a Saturday morning and you have decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and have a picnic in the park. You’ve deposited the picnic blanket in a shady spot – what does your child get up to?
A) Hurricane Eddie takes off into the distance, and one parent quickly has to abandon the picnic blanket to stand on the edge of the playground, scanning as he moves from slide to swing to tree to toilet block to that dead bird near the car park.
B) Olive takes her spot on the mat and soaks in the serenity, staring intently at the other kids playing. After a little while she starts pointing and asking questions – like what is that boy doing poking the dead bird by the car park.
C) Penny alternates between yelling out for her parents attention as she goes down the slide in increasingly creative ways, and trying to get her older sister to push her on the swing.
D) Elliot beelines to the outdoor exercise station to the side of the playground, and starts pulling the levers and pushing the peddles, poking the springs and moving the weights up and down.
It’s meal time? Which sounds more like your household?
A) Sit in the high chair, no thank you! Eddie is too busy for a structured meal and prefers to eat on the move, grazing throughout the day.
B) Olive loves to sit in her high chair with the rest of the family at dinner time, particularly if everyone is eating the same thing. Sometimes in unfamiliar environments she seems to forget to eat and spends more time watching the conversation flow, the waiters walk by and the candles flicker.
C) Penny loves a good chat during dinner, and is often up and down from the table fetching a drink, getting a toy to show Dad or going to the toilet. Yesterday she loved broccoli, but today she is convinced it is poison – and everyone soon knows it!
D) Elliot has eaten his dinner fairly systematically, and is now building a mountain out of his mashed potato and peas.
Aunty Claire and Uncle Henry have a dog named Bones, a bit of gentle giant who is pretty good with kids.
A) Poor Bones gets a run for his money from Eddie. Between games of chasey, attempts to ride Bones, many games of fetch, and more “treats” than he can count, he will sleep well tonight!
B) Olive thinks Bones is the most interesting and hilarious thing she has ever seen. She watches him walk and laughs. She watches him eat and drink and run in the backyard, and when he goes into the back room for a nap, she is the first person to notice and ask where he is.
C) Bones is Penny’s new best friend. She wants to brush him, feed him, dress him up, teach him tricks and pretend he can talk.
D) Elliot has a hundred questions about Bones – where does he sleep? What does he eat? How old is he? Where are his Mum and Dad? Does he like apples? Why is he barking? Why are his ears so floppy?
Off to Day Care. Which child is yours?
A)Eddie is busy busy busy. If you were to get out your camera, he would be in the background of every frame, buzzing around investigating everyone and everything
B) The day care teachers describe Olive as a little slow to warm up, she likes to sit back and watch the commotion and joins in more and more as the day progresses.
C) Penny is a born leader, if a little bossy at times. She is often leading other children in games, very chatty with the teachers, and likes to be praised. Penny also tends to have “big feelings” when she doesn’t get her way.
D) Elliot is often seen playing quite intently with one or two other children. He particularly likes the sand pit, craft and construction play, and tackling obstacle courses.
Mostly As – Eddie the Explorer
To Eddie, the grass is always greener. He is often described as “busy” or “on the go”. Explorers often move at an early age and hit their gross motor milestones early. These are the kids child proofing was invented for, if there is a cupboard to be opened or a ladder to be climbed they will find it! Explorers can have difficulty with activities that require sustained attention, and the ability to sit and concentrate on a task is a necessary skill both for fine motor development and structured learning in school.
How to support your Explorer
Develop safe spaces for free exploration. Child proof areas of your home where you know your Explorer can run wild. Provide safe opportunities for climbing and adventure, whether it’s a KinderGym class, a day at a junior trampoline park, or a toddler friendly playground. Place safe obstacles in the backyard and direct them towards these when their adventurous nature drives them to jump off the bookshelf. Safe spaces allow you to breath, lengthen the leash and let your Explorer explore their limits safely.
Engage your Explorer in 1:1 quiet play with novel activities to build fine motor and stability skills. Explorers need variety and to be actively engaged in quiet activities – they are unlikely to sit still and colour or read for long periods of time. Activities like simple board games, making collages and cooking can be interesting and varied enough to hold their attention – but expect to be there initially to keep them engaged! Sometimes mixing active and quiet activities works well to practice fine motor and postural control; for example play hide and seek to find the puzzle pieces one by one, then sit down and place them in the puzzle. Activities like balloon tennis or throwing or catching a ball can be done while “still” or “balancing”, but still have a degree of activity to satisfy a busy body.
Mostly Bs – Olive the Observer
Olive is often described as “alert”, “thoughtful” or “slow to warm up”. She likes to soak in her surroundings and doesn’t like to rush into new environments. She often seems to be the calm in the storm, and as her language develops she may like to sit with an adult and ask them questions and point out things of interest around her. She seems to flourish in more familiar settings and small groups, though she quite likes being in busy places as there is so much to look at. Observers tend to need encouragement to join in and try new things.
How to support your Observer
Give your Observer repeated exposure to new environments to let them “warm up”. They may not rush in to participate at their first music class or play group, but as they becomes familiar there will be less to study and more to do. Don’t push to join in straight away – it is perfectly fine to want to stand back initially and just watch
If your O
bserver seems easily distracted or overwhelmed, they may do better practicing new motor skills in smaller groups or 1:1 settings where they can concentrate on the task at hand and not on what everyone else is doing
Encourage exploration and initiation while embracing their observant nature – copying games and taking turns can allow them to watch first and build the confidence to give it a go. It is not unusual for an Observer to suddenly seem to have a new skill overnight, with a lot of mental practice happening under the surface.
Find their “currency”. Whether it’s stickers, bubbles, musical toys or even food, most Observers will have something that motivates them to move from the sidelines and into the game.
Mostly Cs – Penny the Performer
Penny is a people person. She loves interacting with others, and will stride up to another adult or child exuding confidence. Performers love to be the centre of attention, and often struggle with independent play. They can demand a lot out of a parent – you will spend a lot of time watching them go down the slide, sitting for fake cups of tea, playing elaborate games with boats and monsters in the bath, and reading just one more book before bed. Performers have big hearts to share with everyone around them – and often very big feelings as well.
How to support your performer
Encourage motor development through interactive play. Good games for gross motor development can include Simon Says, role playing, Statues, dancing or team sports. These children thrive in organised activities which provide stimulation from adults and peers within a structured environment to provide boundaries and limits for those big feelings.
Help your Performer develop the skills needed for independent play. Set them up with a quiet activity (craft, lego, colouring in, reading, toy trains, etc) and encourage them to play without you for increasing periods of time. Structure this into the day so it is something expected and pleasant. Sometimes a timer or a clock can be a useful tool to build up sustained independent play and attention. Make sure you also put aside time to play with your Performer and give them the attention and time they need to thrive – otherwise you may find yourself getting one more glass of water and reading one more story at bedtime as they fill up their “Love Bank” before bed.
Mostly Ds – Elliot the Engineer
Elliot wants to know how things work. He wants to take things apart, put them back together, open things that are shut, spin wheels, pull levers, slide doors, push the red button in the lift and read the book of 101 Dinosaur facts. Engineers are motivated by cause and effect, and also like to explore – but on a smaller scale. They are often quite happy to work on the one activity for extended periods of time, putting the shapes in the shape sorter or playing with their busy board independently. Engineers can need encouragement to engage in “bigger picture” or imaginative play, and can be drawn to more sedentary activities like play dough, lego or video games.
How to support your Engineer
Cause and effect and construction toys are the Engineer’s currency. Encourage you engineer to crawl, cruise and walk by placing these toys are different heights, or make them stand and reach for their busy board. Encourage them to build their postural control by “working” lying on their tummy, kneeling at the table, side sitting, sitting on a fit ball, etc. Engineers often enjoy physical activities with a clear aim, or a start/middle/end, like obstacle courses, Simon Says or target games.
Give your Engineer the opportunity to step outside the box with role playing and imaginative play. Encourage them to join in with arts and crafts, music or dancing, and embrace their creative side.
Some Engineers can seem to spend a lot of time sitting down doing quiet activities as they get older. Good activities for Engineers involve practice and strategy – cricket, tennis, orienteering, Scouts or Scavenger hunts can be good ways to get your Engineer off the couch.