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Classification of Motor Skills

By Alison Smith ; Updated June 13, 2017
Science uses special terminology to classify movement skills.

Motor skills are learned movements of the body. Your child will use these various movements throughout his life. Certain terminology is used to describe the classification of motor skills, according to Richard Schmidt, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at UCLA, and Timothy Lee, Ph.D., of the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University.

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Discrete Movements

Your child will make discrete movements, which are those with a clear beginning and end. Some discrete movements are rapid, requiring only a few seconds to complete, while other movements require much more time to complete. Discrete movement also involves decision making, which prolongs the initiation of your child's movement. Examples of discrete movements include kicking a ball, throwing, writing a signature, striking a match and snapping the fingers, according to Schmidt and Lee.

Continuous Movement

Continuous movement are your child's movements that have no recognizable start or finish; the movement ends when the destination is reached. Schmidt and Lee note that continuous tasks tend to last longer than discrete tasks and include swimming, running, skipping and dancing. To study the nature of continuous movement in the laboratory, subjects are typically asked to perform a tracking task consisting of a moving object that the subject must pursue with the hand or a device.

Serial Movement

When your child makes serial movements, they are neither discrete nor continuous; instead, they are movements composed of a series of individual movements strung together in a certain time period. Serial movements include making a crafts project or coloring a picture.

Open Movement

Open movement skills occur when the environment is unpredictable; therefore, your child cannot plan the entire movement beforehand since he is not aware of what movement type is required until moments before. An example of an open movement would be returning a serve in tennis. A player is generally aware of what direction the ball will travel, but not until the ball is airborne does the player know how to respond, notes Duane Millslagle, Ph.D., of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Closed Movement

The environment in closed skills is predictable for your child. There is no need for your child to anticipate or make decisions regarding movement type based upon changes in the environment. Examples of closed movements include archery, darts and bowling. When learning new movements, the environment is unpredictable and therefore open; but, as your child learns a skill, like juggling, the environment becomes more predictable and closed, according to Millslagle.

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About the Author

Alison Smith is an academic from Toronto, who has six years of experience publishing scientific manuscripts and abstracts within “Brain Research” and “The Society for Neuroscience.” Smith obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo, and held doctoral funding from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

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