What Are Manipulative Motor Skills?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2019
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Manipulative motor skills are the controlled use of hands and feet to perform complex tasks. This type of motor coordination develops over time as a child interacts with the surrounding environment. Some conditions may limit the development of manipulative motor skills and others can cause a decline in such skills by damaging the nervous system. In school, teachers and other care providers use a variety of methods to promote the development of motor skills in their charges.

When babies are initially born, they lack hand-eye coordination and have difficulty grasping and manipulating objects. As they interact with objects of different shapes, sizes, and textures, they should develop manipulative motor skills. This allows them to grasp, move, and alter objects, as well as coordinating hand movements with direction from visual stimuli. For example, a task like turning on a light requires the ability to move a small switch, and correctly grasp the switch by visually identifying it.

Tasks like sports, writing, and hobbies such as building models all require manipulative motor skills. People need a high degree of comfort with physical objects and must be able to exhibit controlled movements. Practice and patience may be required to develop the level of refinement necessary for some tasks. Without the ability to carefully modulate position and pressure, complex movements would be challenging. For example, a child might crush an object in a dollhouse instead of carefully placing it, or could have difficulty passing a ball to a partner.


Numerous games can help children develop manipulative motor skills. Many of them involve working with objects to perform activities like passing shapes through holes, rattling toys, and so forth. As children develop and engage in more complex tasks, they can refine their motor skills. Learning to write, for instance, offers opportunities to develop increasing muscle control in the hands. Likewise, participation in sports can develop hand-eye coordination and muscle skills.

Adults may have trouble with manipulative motor skills after suffering certain injuries. These can damage the nerves that send signals, or may injure the parts of the brain involved in motor coordination. Degenerative neurological diseases in particular can create a persistent problem that grows worse over time. Patients with Parkinson’s disease, for example, may initially develop tremors and experience decreasing control over their hand movements. This makes it hard to perform self care activities like grooming and bathing, let alone pursue hobbies and work that require excellent muscle coordination in the hands.


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