Useful Movement Vocabulary


Auditory system

The auditory system deals with our sense of hearing – but is more than just being able to hear accurately. We need to be able to determine which sounds are important and which can be tuned out. We also need to be able to locate sound – where is it coming from, and also organise the sounds of speech.


Bilateral integration

Bilateral integration is the ability to use both sides of the body together in a coordinated way. Examples of this would be:

  • Holding a banana in one hand and peeling with the other
  • Using a knife and fork
  • Stepping forward with one foot and throwing a ball with the opposite hand.

A child who is delayed in developing bilateral integration skills may prefer to use one hand alone rather than both hands together, and may appear awkward or clumsy in some gross and fine motor activities.


Core stability

The capacity of the muscles of the torso to assist in the maintenance of good posture, balance, etc., especially during movement.

Crossing the mid-line

Every child is born with a midline barrier. The body's mid-line is an imaginary line down the centre of the body that separates the body into left and right. This barrier prevents a body part moving over to the other side of the body. It also prevents the eyes from smoothly tracking across the body.

The ability to 'cross the midline' means that a body part (e.g. hand or foot) is able to spontaneously move over to the other side of the body to work there. Before this ability is well established, young child may tend to use the left hand on the left side of the body and the right hand on the right side of the body.

With lots of whole body play, children begin to break down the midline barrier at around 2 years old. This process will continue for several years. Crossing the body's mid-line is an important developmental skill needed for many everyday tasks such as writing, hitting a ball with a bat and tracking lines of print for reading.


Fine motor skills

Fine motor skills involve the use of the smaller muscle of the hands, commonly in activities like using pencils, scissors, construction with lego or duplo, doing up buttons, using cutlery and opening lunch boxes.

Control of large muscles preceded the development of fine motor control. Fine motor skills, including writing, drawing and cutting, will be poor if there is not a strong base of support provided by gross motor stability.


Gross motor skills

Gross motor skills are those which require whole body movement and involve the large (core stabilising) muscles of the trunk and control of the large muscles of the arms and legs. Gross motor skills are important in enabling children to perform every day functions, such as standing and walking, running and jumping, and sitting upright at the table. They are also involved in hand-eye coordination skills such as ball skills (throwing, catching, kicking) as well as riding a bike or a scooter.

In any area of a child's body, gross motor skills develop before fine motor skills, and so gross motor skills have an influence on all everyday functions including self-care skills like dressing, eating and toileting.

When involved in fine motor tasks at a table, the child's ability to sit upright and maintain good posture will affect their ability to participate in writing, drawing and cutting, and also to paying attention to instructions.

Gustatory system

This system is responsible for detecting all the different flavours that come in the mouth.


Hand dominance

Hand dominance and hand preference are terms that refer to a person's consistent use of one hand rather than the other hand for a skilled task.

The more a child uses a specific hand for a task, the more efficient the child becomes at that task, and then the movement becomes "automated", which frees the brain up for other cognitive tasks.



Laterality is an internal awareness that there are two sides to the body and that these sides are different. Laterality starts to appear around the fourth year.

Young children at first do not know the names of these sides even though they are aware that they are there: They have two ears, two eyes, two arms. Later they will be able to identify that they have a right and a left side.

The development of laterality is a major step in the child's awareness that they have a left and a right side, and until laterality develops a child may struggle with the concept of reading and writing from left to right and with forming letters.


Olfactory system

Chemical receptors in our nose send information to the brain. Our sense of smell is directly linked to areas of the brain responsible for emotional memories.


Postural reflexes

Postural reflexes develop after birth and as the primitive reflexes start to become inhibited. As their name suggests, they are largely involved with enabling children (and adults) to have good posture. Put simply, this is the ability to sit up, stand still, maintain balance and move in a coordinated way.

It may take until the child is about 3 and a half years of age for their postural reflexes to fully develop. Children with absent or underdeveloped postural reflexes (especially the Head Righting Reflexes) will often have difficulties with reading, balance, coordination and tasks that require good visual-motor function (e.g. reading).



Proprioceptive system

Proprioception is our sense of body awareness: our sense of where the whole and individual body parts are. Our body senses this through receptors in our muscles and joints. Information from this system is very importance for controlling our movements in daily life and for using tools.

The proprioceptive system is activated by 'heavy work' activities- anytime we push or pull on objects or surfaces, as well as any time the joints are compressed together or stretched apart (as in jumping up and down or climbing). This system helps us understand how much force we are using and whether we need to use more or less force in order to successfully complete a task.

Children with poor proprioception may appear clumsy and bump into things more often as they aren't sure about the positioning of their body in space.



Primitive reflexes are 'survival' reflexes that babies should be born with to enable them to survive the first few months of life. They are there to help with the birth process, enable the baby to instinctively feed and alert a care giver if the baby is distressed.

These primitive reflexes should start to disappear (become inhibited) over the first 6 months of life and their retention beyond 18 months, in combination with absent or underdeveloped postural reflexes, is often associated with neuromotor immaturity and later learning, movement and behavioural concerns.

Their retention may be linked to a difficult birth and/or a lack of appropriate movement opportunities in the early months. Appropriate movement opportunities for a very young baby include plenty of time on the floor on their backs and then on their tummies (not restricted in 'containers'). Adequate time spent at each stage of development is also important.




Sensory input

Stimuli that the nervous system receives from the external or internal environment; this includes pressure, taste, smell, sound and light.

Sensory integration

Sensory integration is the process by which we receive information through our seven senses, organise this information, and use it to participate in everyday activities. It is therefore vital that all seven sensory systems are stimulated, fully developed and interwoven (integrated) through plenty of movement play in early childhood.

When these sensory systems are able to work together and coordinate their efforts, we are able to function without even realising how much "work" is being done within our brain.

For example,

  • Visual and vestibular systems work together to facilitate eye tracking in order to do things like reading, writing, and participating in sports.
  • Proprioceptive, vestibular, tactile, and visual systems work together to facilitate the responses needed in order to kick or catch a ball that's coming right at you.
  • The proprioceptive and tactile systems work together to tell your body how tightly or loosely to grasp a pencil, how roughly or gently to play with a friend, or how much force to use when picking up or carrying an object.

When the sensory systems have difficulty integrating (i.e. communicating and working together), then everyday activities such as those mentioned above can become significantly more difficult.


Tactile system

The sensory receptors of the tactile system are located in the skin and mouth. The system has two main functions – to tell us when we are touching something, and to discriminate the features of what it is we are touching: its size, shape, texture or temperature.


Vestibular system

The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and deals with our sense of balance and motion. This system is continuously stimulated by the downward force of gravity, giving us a sense of where we are in space. It is also activated anytime we move our heads.

Although we are normally unaware of its function, the vestibular system plays a large role in maintaining posture, listening and concentrating, and controlling eye movements

Visual system

Our sense of vision is more than just being able to see clearly. Good vision relies upon the ability to control the movement of our eyes - the ability to use both eyes together as a team, 'fixate' steadily on objects, follow objects smoothly and look from far to near. These eye movement skills develop as a child learns to move and rely on the control of the vestibular (balance) system.