Common Child Development Terms Defined!
written by: The Inspired Treehouse
As therapists, we often use clinical terminology to talk about child development. We throw around words like gross motor skills and sensory play. We reference bilateral coordination and balance.
But as practicing clinicians, we also have to be well-versed in translating this therapy lingo into layman’s terms in order to effectively communicate with our clients and the families with whom we work.
Now that we’re bloggers, we see many other popular blogs using these very clinical terms to describe the skills addressed by their activities. But what do all these fancy words really mean?
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5 Common Child Development Terms Defined!
We have chosen five terms related to child development that you may see and hear often in resources related to parenting, childcare, and kids activities — maybe you’ve even used them yourself!
For each of these terms, you’ll find a technical definition along with an easier-to-understand explanation so you can be confident and well-informed when you’re talking about child development! We have also included a few activities from our blog archives that address each skill.
is the ability to maintain the line of gravity of a body within the base of support with minimal postural sway. Sway is the horizontal movement of the center of gravity even when a person is standing still.
To put this one in easy to understand terms, balance is the ability to hold your body upright and steady without falling down! This could be in sitting or standing, eyes open or eyes closed.
is the combination of body movements created with direction and force that result in intended actions. Motor coordination is achieved when subsequent parts of the same movement, or the movements of several body parts are combined in a manner that is well timed, smooth, and efficient with respect to the intended goal. WHHHHHHAT??? This doesn’t have to be so difficult.
Have you ever heard the saying “she can’t walk and chew gum at the same time??” This is coordination. Moving your body together – smoothly – to create a movement. Like dribbling a basketball using your arm and hand to bounce the ball while your feet and legs move you around the court. Coordination takes place for both complex movements (like the basketball example above) and for even the simplest movements, like grasping a spoon and bringing it to your mouth.
3. Fine Motor Skills
are the coordination of small muscle movements which occur in body parts such as the fingers, usually in coordination with the eyes.
Think of anything that you do with your hands. Write, get dressed, use scissors, hold a spoon, type on a keyboard, do a puzzle, etc. This list goes on and on:)
4. Gross Motor Skills
are abilities usually acquired during infancy and early childhood as part of a child’s motor development. By the time they reach two years of age, almost all children are able to stand up, walk and run, walk up stairs, etc. These skills are built upon, improved and better controlled throughout early childhood, and continue in refinement throughout most of the individual’s years of development into adulthood. These gross movements come from large muscle groups and whole body movement. These skills develop in a head-to-toe order. The children will typically learn head control, trunk stability, and then standing up and walking.
Think of your child using their BIG muscles. These are the muscles that are in charge of major movements like walking, kicking a ball, picking something up., jumping. Each one of these gross motor skills adds on to another to create an even bigger skill.
5. Sensory Integration
is the neurological process that organizes sensations from one’s own body and from the environment, and makes it possible to use the body to make adaptive responses within the environment. (A. Jean Ayres, 1989)
We are experiencing sensations all the time! Including what we see (vision), what we hear (auditory), what we feel (tactile), what we smell (olfactory), what things taste like (oral), and the way our bodies feel when we move (vestibular and proprioception). We use these sensations to create appropriate responses to everyday situations. An example would be hearing a fire alarm and automatically lining up to exit the building, or feeling crumbs on your face and wiping them away with your napkin. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), is a condition in which sensory signals aren’t organized into appropriate responses. Check out the following resources if you want to read more.
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More Child Development Terms Defined!
You can find more in-depth information in our child development posts, called Tricks of the Trade. These are features where we use our OT and PT minds to help readers conquer common developmental issues that come up for kids using simple strategies and activities.
Who runs the Inspired Treehouse?
We are Cleveland, Ohio moms and pediatric therapists who believe that with a little help, kids can build strong, healthy bodies and minds through play. We feature creative, easy-to-implement activities that target all areas of development.
Our blog posts provide instructions for facilitating activities, lists of materials and supplies, and useful ideas for varying the difficulty and approach to each activity. Our “Clinical Close-up” page makes clinical terminology accessible by breaking it down into terms everyone can understand. Our features entitled “Tricks of the Trade” are posts where we use our “OT and PT minds” to help readers conquer common developmental issues that come up for kids.
One of our newest additions is “Quick Tips” where we provide hints that we use in our therapy practice for working on common developmental skills like stair climbing, writing, and jumping jacks.
All of our activity posts are categorized by theme. Some of our most popular themes have been Bedtime and Bugs! Years of clinical practice in pediatrics has equipped us with the ability to come up with tons of activities for each theme to address developmental skills in a creative and playful way. Our activities are always easy to implement and they are perfect for moms, teachers, babysitters, and even fellow clinicians.
Get even more Child Development Terms Defined!
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For more, listen to our interview with the Inspired Treehouse!