How Do Perceptual & Motor Skills Develop in Infants & Toddlers?

By Debra Pachucki
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During child development, perceptual and motor skills work together to enable infants and toddlers to take in information from the environment and organize, interpret and process it. Sensory experiences that encourage children to listen, look, touch, feel, crawl, jump, and dance to environmental stimuli promote perceptual and motor skill health and growth.

Environmental Cues

A baby learns to recognize his parents' voices, their native language, and even the theme songs to their favorite sitcoms while he is still in the womb. These are a baby's first experience of auditory cues. As a baby grows, he will use his developing visual and auditory skills to recognize different sounds, images, smells, tastes, and behaviors and accurately equate them with people, objects and outcomes. As a child enters toddlerhood, his increasing mobility, cognitive awareness, and curiosity allow him to explore and perceive environmental cues in new and varied ways, which leads to an ever-expanding awareness of himself, others and his surroundings.

Tactile Experiences

An infant's motor ability to reach out, explore, and grasp objects with his hands provides him with an abundance of sensory stimuli that foster perception and awareness. A baby learns, for example, the concept of "soft" as he gently strokes his favorite blanket and anticipates the familiar sound of the rattle as he shakes and bangs it. Toddlers are capable of perceiving tactile sensory experiences through motor skills in increasingly complex terms. When a toddler activates a button on an electronic toy, splashes in the tub or bangs a wooden peg with a hammer, for example, he learns to anticipate sequences, predict outcomes, and comprehend cause and effect.

Motor Coordination

A baby's ability to roll over, sit up unsupported and feed herself finger foods are all demonstrative of her developing ability to coordinate muscle movements based on information she's processed about her environment -- her perception of distances, dimension and consequences, for example. As a baby continues to strengthen and coordinate her gross and fine muscles, she is able to perform physical tasks with increased accuracy, precision and perception. During the late infant months and toddler years, a child will eventually learn to crawl, walk, manipulate small objects, and communicate verbally due to the development of motor and perceptual skills.

Promoting Development

Infants and toddlers learn and develop primarily through play. Provide your child with opportunities for motor and perceptual skill development with experiences and activities that promote your child's use of her muscles and senses. Encourage your infant to run her hands across different fabrics and textures, and provide listening and seeing activities with musical toys and games. Give a toddler plenty of time play outside on playground equipment, engage in arts and craft activities, and play with toys that demonstrate cause and effect. Be patient with your child as she attempts to complete new tasks and challenges.

About the Author

Debra Pachucki has been writing in the journalistic, scholastic and educational sectors since 2003. Pachucki holds a Bachelor's degree in education and currently teaches in New Jersey. She has worked professionally with children of all ages and is pursuing a second Masters degree in education from Monmouth University.