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Environmental Factors - Gross

Play Environment

Value of Play

Environmental Factors - Fine

Biological Factors

Sex-related Differences

Environmental factors affecting Gross Motor Development


This issue raises concerns about whether human behavior is a function of our heredity or of the environment in which we interact (Payne & Isaacs, 1987). In particular "Does the environment have an effect on an individuals motor development and is there an association between motor skills and an individual being placed in a deprived or stimulating environment". This is an important area of concern since we want to create learning tasks that will most efficiently enhance the movement abilities of people of all ages.


It is obvious that a child deprived of adequate food and shelter may be harmed physically. It is becoming increasingly evident that in our society no one can attain maximal potential if they do not grow up under favorable conditions



The play environment is extremely important to the developing child's motor skills. Play is a general term often applied to any form of activity that is undirected, spontaneous or engaged in randomly. Ideally nature provides all the ingredients for play that are required for developing to full maturity and gaining important motor skills. Large areas to run in, rocks, hills and trees to climb and stones to throw are suited to developing motor skills.


However urbanization has eliminated the fields to play in, concrete and asphalt have replaced the hills and trees. A child may also be denied access to these because of the safety factors involved and the confines of television watching are often more attractive than the activities of running and playing. If a child is to fully develop gross motor skills it is important to create an effective play environment. The world of home, park and school should provide the opportunity for children to gain necessary experience for efficient locomotion, balance and control of various objects.



Values of Play Outdoors

In particular play provides opportunities to develop physical skills and physical fitness to strengthen muscles. It also -


  • Develops gross motor skills and fine motor skills


  • Coordination skills of hands, feet and eyes (visual motor skills)


  • Opportunities to develop agility, balance, coordination, flexibility, strength and speed


  • Offers sensory stimulation


  • Opportunities for emotional release


  • Social development - interacting with adults and peer group.


  • Sharing, cooperating, talking turns and assisting others with equipment and experiences


Payne (Payne &, Isaac 1987) believes that there is a "critical period" of time when a child is especially sensitive to environmental stimuli. If the child is appropriately stimulated during this period the associated behavior is most likely to emerge or be facilitated.


A child's "readiness" must also be considered in motor development, as a person must achieve a certain point in an ongoing process that enables the establishment of minimum characteristics necessary for a certain behavior to be acquired.


If a child has been deprived during these periods a "catch up" period may be initiated. Catch up is a human beings ability to return to a predetermined pattern of behavior or growth following a relatively sever period of deprivation or mistreatment. Although normally associated with physical growth catch up also appears to occur with motor development.



Environmental factors affecting Fine Motor Development

Environmental factors can also affect fine motor skills. Glenn Doman (Payne & Isaacs, 1987) wrote several books about the teaching of skills such as reading and maths to babies. Although these skills are often believed to be entirely intellectual, Doman found that the fine control of eye movement for example emphasizes the influence of motor development on ones reading or maths success.

A cross-cultural comparison of Dynamic tripod development

Rosenbloom and Horton (1971; cited in Payne and Isaacs, 1987) used British children in their study of the development of techniques for holding writing implements. Later, Saida and Miyashita (1979; cited in Payne and Isaacs, 1987) conducted a similar study. They used Japanese children to compare the fine motor skills of both groups.

Saida & Miyashita found that the sequential development of the techniques for holding and moving writing implements was universal, although the rate of acquisition of stages varied.


Similarities between groups

It was found that both Japanese and British children:

  • Went through similar developmental stages for holding writing implements
  • Moved their fingers closer to the point of the pencil as they progressed through the stages
  • Reached the Simple tripod stage at roughly the same average age. (Japanese: 29 months; British: 31 months).


A significant difference between groups


  • Japanese and British children progressed from the Simple to the Dynamic tripod stages at very different ages. (Japanese: 35 months; British: 48 months).


Why the difference between groups?

It has been speculated that the Dynamic tripod development of Japanese children may have been enhanced by cultural differences. For example, Japanese children are taught to use chopsticks at an early age and therefore exercise their fine motor skills.


Implications for teaching

One inference which can be made from the cross cultural study is that lessons should emphasize exercising fine motor skills. Junior Primary students could be instructed to:


  • cut on the line with scissors


  • colour-in neatly (not because it looks nice, but to exercise fine motor skills)


The premise that practice makes perfect is not accepted by all researchers of motor development. Motor skills are related to several other abilities. Some skills depend on practice, some rely on body size, brain maturation or genetically based talent. A child's brain maturation affects their reaction time which in turn affects a child's ability to perform a motor skill.

Influence of home environment on drawing development

Kellogg's (1969; cited in Payne and Isaacs, 1987) four stages of drawing development are sequential, however, the age at which children enter these stages is influenced by variables such as the home environment.

According to Payne & Issacs (1987), children from homes conducive to drawing develop drawing skills earlier. Components of a positive home environment include:


  • availability of writing implements


  • opportunities to observe other people drawing


Implications for teaching

At can be inferred that a classroom which contains the characteristics of a positive home environment will also be conducive to the development of drawing skills.




Biological factors affecting Motor Development


  • Environment from the moment of conception modifies and interacts with heredity to shape the individual and to control the extent to which the maximal potential will be realized. It is difficult if not impossible to assess the relative contribution of heredity and environment. (Eckert M. 1967)


  • Although normally everyone attains the same mature human behaviors the rate and ultimate level of achievement may vary considerably. It is believed that both genetic makeup and environmental surrounding can have an impact on motor skills and development.


  • Inherited factors such as ability level, rate of physical maturation and body type account for variation in the acquisition of motor skills.


  • Each individual has a genetic timetable for maturation. This maturation can be faster or slower than others in their family. Individuals development is influenced by their family and their broader culture as they provide factors that effect development such as encouragement, nutrition and most importantly opportunities to practice.



Sex-related Differences in Motor Skills


During the middle childhood years when a child is attending primary school differences between the sexes intensifies. Girls are ahead of boys in their overall physical maturity.




slightly more advanced in abilities that emphasize force and power

advantage in fine motor skills such as drawing and penmanship

skill advantages arise due to greater muscle mass and longer forearms

slightly better at certain gross motor capacities that combine balance and foot movement

greater overall flexibility therefore better at bending and balancing