Manipulative Skills

Balloon game - manipulative skills
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Manipulative skills are a category of motor skills—those that involve using an object to achieve a goal or complete a task. For fine motor skills, that object might be a pencil or button. For gross motor skills, the object might be sporting equipment or toys, such as bats, balls, racquets, or jump ropes.

Types of Manipulative Skills

These skills, also known as object control skills, include:

  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Lifting
  • Striking (e.g., swinging a baseball bat or golf club to hit a ball)
  • Throwing
  • Kicking
  • Rolling (a ball)
  • Volleying
  • Bouncing
  • Catching
  • Dribbling (moving a ball with the feet, as in soccer—not dribbling a basketball)

How Manipulative Skills Develop

These skills are harder for kids to master because they are more complex and challenging. So they develop after other gross motor skills. When children are first learning manipulative skills, it is important to remember that the goal isn't complete accuracy (hitting a ball right at a target, for example, or throwing it to another player in a game).

Kids need to start by mastering the action of, say, throwing. So one good way to help them learn is to have them practice using imaginary objects at first. They can pretend to throw a ball, for example, and then move on to using a soft, easy-to-grasp ball. At first, make targets large and easy to hit. As children develop skill and confidence, they can try hitting smaller targets or using balls that are harder to hold or release.

If Your Child Is Struggling

Any time you have concerns about your child's physical development, including mastery of manipulative skills, contact his doctor or your school district's early intervention program (in the U.S.). You can also try these activities at home:

Over the line: Divide a playing area in half with a line (use chalk or tape to mark it).

Put an equal number of soft items, like scarves, socks, beach balls, or lightweight bean bags, on either side of the line. Have kids toss the objects over the line, onto the floor on the opposite side. They can then switch sides and throw the items back over the line to the other side.

Kickin' it: Have kids practice kicking with a beach ball or soft foam ball. Challenge them to kick with their preferred foot and then switch to their other foot. See if they can kick their ball from a spot you choose and hit a wall; gradually move them farther from the wall. You can also hold up a jump rope and see if they can kick the ball over it or under it.

Bowling: Start with large, lightweight pins (such as empty 2-liter soda bottles), then move to smaller plastic bottles or a kids' bowling set.

Strike up the band:  Young children often enjoy practicing striking by drumming on pots and pans with spoons, or playing with other toy musical instruments.

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