I recently spent a week skiing after almost two years off. And while I wouldn’t say I was a superstar, I was amazed at how easily the movements came, and how little thought had to go into me successfully completing the basics of skiing. At some point and time, my body had committed the movements to it muscle memory. Now, add massive amounts of fresh powder and I was glad for that muscle memory because powder is not my strong point (I learned to ski on the east coast) so I had to think about how to build on the basics so that I could successfully get down the mountain.
How is this pertinent? Well when your child is learning a new movement they practice it over and over so that their body can commit the movement to its muscle memory. Once this happens, its an automatic movement and you can start adding in variations to the movement. For instance, a baby learning to crawl will practice on flat ground over and over until they are the crawling masters. Once they get that down they can start experimenting with crawling on different surfaces, such as cushions, or crawling over obstacles, or up stairs. These variations will be more work for them because they have to expand on their movement bank and think about how to be successful. Eventually with practice these will become automatic as well.
When muscle memory happens, a person can go a while without doing a skill and when they try it again, they will need to practice a bit but it will come back that much faster than if they were learning it for the first time. I know when I teach someone to use crutches, it is that much easier for a person who has used them before. This is an example of a skill that isn’t used every day but once its learned, it comes back that much faster when the skill is needed again.
So, the premise of this is repetition is important when kids are learning new skills because they are committing the movement to their muscle memory so that they can expand on that movement and continue to progress to higher level skills. So the next time you wonder why your child who is just learning a skill does it over and over again, its because they are committing it muscle memory. For kids that need extra help to learn movements its essential that repetitions are built in to their learning.