Motor planning is what happens when a child figures out how to interact with their environment. In other words, it is the process that happens when they decide they want to do something (like roll over) and then their brain sends the message to their muscles and their muscles work like a symphony in that they all turn on and off at the right time to produce a coordinated movement that will allow the child to roll over. This is not something that your child just wakes up with one day. Motor planning develops as your child develops and goes through the developmental sequence. This is why it is important for your child to have adequate opportunities to explore their environment and ‘figure’ things out.
Having your child spend time on activities such as tummy time is not just a waste of time. From this position they begin to learn how to push themselves up and roll over. Part of their motor development is the process of ‘figuring it out’. This is how they develop their motor planning. When a child first starts standing you may see them bouncing up and down in their crib by bending and straightening their legs while they hold onto the rails. This is one of the ways they learn how their muscles work. Motor planning happens with all level of skills, its our way of becoming masters at a movement. Just think about jumping jacks, having to coordinate the arms and the legs takes time. Some people pick it up faster than others but everyone requires practice.
I have seen that a lot of times, we want to help our kids out when they get frustrated with trying to figure out how to do something such as crawling over an elevated surface. By letting them work on it and encouraging them, but not doing it for them, you are actually helping them to enhance their motor planning skills. The more they get to practice figuring things out the easier it will be for them to generalize their newly developed skills to new and different environments. It will also help build their resilience for dealing with new situations. I realize that there is a fine line between letting them figure it out and letting them get so frustrated they have a tantrum. What I usually do is give them a little help when they start to escalate their frustration. For example if they are trying to crawl over a cushion and they can’t figure out how to do it I may bring one of their knees up and let them bring the other knee up. Or I may stabilize one leg so they can get the leverage to bring the other one up.
I think the biggest area I see this becoming a problem today is in sitting. We get so excited when our kids can sit up on their own that we are constantly placing them in sitting rather than letting them figure out how to get into sitting. One way around this is to help them get into the sitting position rather than just picking them up and putting them in sitting. With gross motor development its not just the end result that’s important, its how they get there as well! This is how they develop and enhance their motor planning. One more quick example is when you first learned to drive a car. It required practice in order to be able to steer, brake, check the mirrors, change lanes, etc. Now you can drive without even thinking about it. If you had never been given that practice time do you think you would be able to drive as easily. For your child, learning to move in and out of positions and physical play time in general is their practice time!