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How Do We Use Our Sensory and Motor Systems in the School Setting?

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Sensory and motor skills in the classroom. How these skills and the integration of these skills can affect school performance.

As we grow older and gain experience with the world around us, we develop skills that are required for adequate participation and success within the school setting. The time from preschool through second grade is a time of rapid development of foundational academic skills.

Success in the classroom and whole school environment requires adequate sensorimotor

abilities that are integrated throughout the day.

Activities Requiring Sensorimotor Functioning

For most activities, the sensory and motor components are interconnected, and the adequate sensory processing and integration is what drives the motor response.

Some activities that require sensorimotor functioning, listed from the OT/PT guidelines (2012) include:

  • Coloring, cutting, writing, typing, unzip backpack- requires hand strength, finger dexterity, tactile discrimination, visual motor integration, bilateral coordination, postural control, using appropriate pressure

  • Writing on a line- requires ocular motor and visual motor integration, vestibular processing, hand strength

  • Reading- requires ocular motor and visual motor integration, vestibular processing, sustained attention

  • Attend to classroom instruction- requires the ability to filter out irrelevant information, adequate visual and auditory processing

  • Completing projects or assignments with multiple steps- requires the ability to initiate, organize, and execute plans (praxis), sustained attention

  • Maintain personal body space in circle time, line, or assembly- requires adequate vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile processing, postural stability

  • Navigate playground (climb stairs, play on swings, balance)- requires vestibular and proprioceptive processing, bilateral coordination, visual motor integration, postural control, balance, strength and endurance, motor planning

  • Participate in P.E. or recess games (run, hop, throw, catch, kick, dribble)- requires bilateral coordination, vestibular and proprioceptive processing, visual motor integration, motor planning, endurance, strength

  • Feed self with utensils, opening packages- requires bilateral coordination, tactile discrimination, visual motor integration, hand and finger strength and dexterity, postural stability

  • Manage clothing during the day- requires motor planning, bilateral coordination, tactile discrimination, visual motor integration, hand and finger strength and dexterity

As you can see, a single activity requires the ongoing integration of several sensory and motor systems. If children are having trouble with integrating these systems it can affect how they are performing in the classroom and on the playground.

Development of School-Related Skills for Young Children

Listed below are ages which we expect children to be able to learn and perform certain academic skills. Although children’s development ranges, these are general guidelines for development. If these skills do not emerge around the expected age, we may look for red flags for developmental and academic delays.

3 year old’s learn to: draw circle, cut paper in half, copes vertical and horizontal lines, can unbutton large buttons, can cut along a ½” line, can string 1/2 “ beads, can sort objects, grasp with hand over pencil (digital pronate grasp) matures into a modified tripod grasp, can attend for 6-8 minutes

4 year old’s can: copy cross, diagonal lines, square, and X, can fasten and unfasten large buttons, can color within a picture with no more than ¼” deviation from the coloring line, cuts along a line with no more than ¼” deviation from the line, can cut simple shapes (circle), completes simple puzzle (10 pieces), can use a fork, beginning to establish hand dominance, can identify some letters of alphabet, especially letters in name, can attend for 8-12min

5 year old’s can: identify most letters in the alphabet, can write some letters (letters of own name), may still confuse similar looking letters (b,d,p,q), some letters and numbers may be backward, copies a triangle, copies a diamond, draws a person with at least 6 body parts, begins to tie shoe laces, grasp matures into a 3 finger grasp (tripod), can attend for 12-18 min

6 year old’s can: write most letters (upper and lowercase) and simple words, can print numbers 0-9, fewer letter reversals and confusion, can put 20 piece puzzle together, can cut well with scissors, can attend for 12-18min

Children over 6 years old can: write simple sentences, can use all utensils, can attend for 16-24min, and can begin to complete more complex (multi step) assignments and tasks

If you are concerned about your child's sensory or motor skills please discuss with their teacher and find a local Occupational Therapist.

(California Dept of Education. Guidelines for OT and PT in Public Schools-2 nd Edition, 2012)


Dr. Katie Oien, OTD, OTR/L, MS, BCP

Katie is an occupational therapist certified by the National Board of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and the state of California. She specializes in working with children with various neurodevelopmental and physical disorders. She is SIPT certified and has advanced training in neuroscience, sensory integration, reflex integration, neurodevelopmental treatment, feeding, and physical agent modalities.

Skyrocket Pediatric Therapy Foundation (Skyrocket) does not provide medical or legal advice or services. Skyrocket provides general information about developmental disabilities and developmental therapies as a service to the community. The information provided on our website is not a recommendation, referral or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal or educational professionals. Skyrocket has not validated and is not responsible for any information, events, or services provided by third parties. The views and opinions expressed in blogs on our website do not necessarily reflect the views of Skyrocket.

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