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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Based off of Gibson’s Ecological Perspective, Gibson (1979) defines an affordance as an awareness of the environment and it’s functional significance (as cited in Gabbard, Cacola, and Rodrigues, 2008). Simply put, an affordance is the ability of a child to recognize an object’s ability in providing them an opportunity for action (Haydari, Askari, and Nezhad, 2009). In terms of motor development, the term “affordance” is commonly used when referring to things that may promote development across the lifespan, and has been an area of focus specifically in the study of motor development (Gabbard,2012).

An affordance can be a place, person, object, or event (Adolph & Berger, 2011). For example, a door knob could afford twisting; meanwhile the ocean could afford swimming or drowning. Similarly an after school sports program could afford more physical activity opportunities for students. Together the environment and the individual create possibilities. Specifically, this page is concerned with affordances as opportunities for movement.


The definition of what an affordance is has evolved over time. Earlier theories define affordances more objectively as direct properties of the environment (Chemero, 2003). These properties were understood as being animal-relative properties, meaning that they have some significance to the animal’s behaviour (Chemero, 2003). Work stemming from this definition focused on two main questions, the first: what kind of animal-relative properties affordances are, and the second: what about animals are affordances relative to?

Two main views emerged concerning the type of animal-relative properties that affordances are. The first linked affordances to natural selection (Chemero, 2003). Affordances were viewed as resources from the environment that could be exploited by some animal. The availability (or non availability) of those resources were thought to create selection pressures on animals and therefore the animal would regulate its behaviour with respect to the affordances of the environment (Chemero, 2003). In turn, animals would develop systems that help them perceive those resources.

The second view, tied affordances more closely to physics than to evolutionary biology and defines affordances as dispositional properties (Chemero, 2003). Meaning that properties of the environment are tendencies that manifest under certain circumstances. For example, being delicate is a dispositional property; something that is delicate could tear or break but only under certain circumstances, such as one where it would be struck hard by something sharp. This means, the environment depends on actualizing circumstances that bring an affordance to manifest. In fact, according to this theory, it is the presence of the individual that actualizes the affordance and therefore, properties of the environment are not affordances in their absence (Chemero, 2003). This would mean that a banana is only edible or could afford eating in the presence of an individual who is able to eat it.

This research brought up the second question, if affordances are dependent on properties of the individual in order to manifest, what is it about the individual that its manifestation depends on? It was proposed that affordances are complimented by abilities of the individual, or effectivities and that it is these effectivities that allow them to make use of an affordance (Chemero, 2003). This view holds that affordances and effectivities are inseparable, dependent of one another. Furthermore, one of the main properties that related the individual to the affordance was body scale. Body scale is the quantifiable ratio between measures of the body in relation to measures of the environmental property (Chemero, 2003). It was suggested that in order for an environmental property to be an affordances it would need to be within a specific range in relation to the measures of the individual (Chemero, 2003).

Today, affordances are more broadly defined as relations between the abilities of an individual and aspects of a situation (Chemero, 2003). In addition, affordances are understood to exist even in the absence of the animal. The affordance exists so long as there is an animal in existence that has the potential to perceive it (Chemero, 2003)

Affordance Identification

Affordances are essentially everywhere. Many factors can contribute in providing of an opportunity for action, be it a person, a place, an object, an event, or a combination of these things(Cacola et al, 2011). For example, living in a cold climate (a place) affords the weather conditions necessary for a child to practice skiing so long as the parent(a person) can afford to pay for the necessary items and fares, and the equipment (an object) is size appropriate for the child. Furthermore, if the child were entered in ski lessons (an event) they would be afforded the opportunity for more practice.

Despite the fact that affordances may be all around us, opportunities for action are only provided if the individual is able to identify the functional purposes of the object. Because of this, affordances should be seen as a functional approach to motor development – that is the efficacy of an affordance is dependent on the individual (Heft, 1988). According to Heft (1988), some factors that indicate how much opportunity for action an object can provide for an individual include the perception of the affordance by the individual, and awareness of the functional possibilities of the affordance.

Perceiving Affordances

Perception is an active cognitive process in which an individual selectively interacts with a variation of perceptual possibilities (Gabbard, 2012). In order for an affordance to provide an opportunity for an individual, the opportunity must first be perceived (Adolph & Berger, 2011). The environment provides opportunities that invite and challenge one to perceive things about it to then be able to act on this information (Adolph & Berger, 2011). By perceiving, one can adapt their actions according to the constraints of their body and the features of their environment (Adolph & Berger, 2011), to make decisions about whether to act or how to act upon in order to have a desired outcome (Fajen et al, 2011).

Perception of an affordance strongly considers a set of real, objective, or physical features of the environment and the mechanisms and abilities of the individual that are relevant to make a specific behavioural activity possible (Chemero, 2003). For example, a coffee table has certain features, it is raised a given distance from the ground and has a flat top. If a crawling infant perceives these things about the coffee table, it may afford them the opportunity to pull themselves up. Initially a coffee table may seem totally irrelevant to motor skill acquisition, but considering that the home is an infant’s predominant environment (Cacola et al, 2011)and that the ability to pull up to stand is the skill that infants must develop before progressing to walking (Gerber et al, 2010), suddenly that coffee table has much more value. Research has shown that home environment directly effects an infant’s motor development (Cacola et al, 2011).

Perception can be trained and develop with practice (Gabbard, 2012. Perceiving affordances, according to Adolph and Berger (2011) can be further understood through the concepts of sensitivity, accuracy, and consistency. Sensitivity refers to the ability of the individual to detect the relations between themselves and the environment, for example, whether their body size is small enough to fit through a doorway or whether they are quick enough to cross a space before time runs out, or they become obstructed. Accuracy refers to the congruency between the actual affordance and the individual’s chosen action, that is, how well does the action match the features of the environment or the objective of the task. For example, a child might very well perceive that a baseball is nearing them and they should swing to hit it; accuracy, in this case, could refer to their ability for hand eye coordination as well as their accuracy in producing the appropriate amount of force for the hit they desire. Finally, consistency refers to the ability to perceive an affordance accurately and repeatedly. All of these concepts pertaining to how an affordance is perceived are related and interdependent and are concepts that can be developed through exposure to appropriate contextual stimulus (Adolph & Berger, 2011).

Though the action chosen may not always be the appropriate one for a particular movement goal, every movement gives rise to perceptual information and this perception then guides further behaviour (Adolph & Berger, 2011). When infants and young children acquire a new motor ability it is often riddled with error, but with more exposure, practice, and teaching cues (i.e. affordances) decisions become increasingly accurate (Adolph & Berger, 2011). In a classic study, infants (14-month-old walkers, and 8-month-old crawlers) moved up and down ramps of varying degrees of incline. What was observed was that the older infants approached the slopes more carefully, as they perceived the affordance of falling. In addition, they used a variety of tactics when ascending and descending the slopes, whereas the younger infants tended to use crawling (sometimes unsuccessfully) and never attempted any alternative methods (Gabbard, 2012). Variability between people becomes increasingly clear, what one person perceives as an affordance, may not necessarily be perceived by another in the same way, if at all. However, providing opportunities for practice can alter and enhance those perceptions (Gabbard, 2012).

Awareness of the Functional Possibilities of Affordances

As parents are adults, they tend to have more of an abstract view on the outdoor environment - when adults look around the environment, they may see and categorize objects such as “tree” and “road” (Heft, 1988). This abstract view on objects in the outdoors may be attributed to the fact that adults create these categorizations based on form-based descriptions that they recall through their own experiences (Heft, 1988). On the other hand, as children are still developing, they are still learning about their environment through experience rather than instincts, and may therefore view an object, such as a tree, as an affordance while an adult does not (Heft, 1988). By viewing the environment as the immediate environment, affordances in an outdoor setting are more apparent to children than to adults. With this information, parents should allow their children to spend more time outside, as there are just as many affordances as there can be inside. In addition, this awareness of affordances by children is seen to motivate further exploration and mobility (Broberg, Kytta, and Fagerholm, 2013).

Although a child may be able to perceive an object in the environment as an affordance, they may not perceive the multiple skills an affordance can provide. (Heft, 1988). For example, in an outdoor environment a child may learn to grasp by picking up a rock, but they may not realize that this rock can be used in other manners, such as throwing it once it is picked up, or using a rock as a hammer. In this case, the supervising adult can act as an affordance by demonstrating other actions with the object to a child. In a study conducted by von Hofsten and Siddiqui (2011), a mother modeled banging, shaking, rubbing, and rolling movements with an object. It was found that after an infant had watched their mother perform these actions, the infants selectively imitated these actions. Therefore, the action of a parent is equally important as exposing their children to affordances, both inside and outside the home.

Body Scale

Body scale can be generally defined as a quantifiable ratio between measurements of the environment and body measurements of an individual (Chemero, 2003). The concept of body scaling pertains greatly to affordances because it provides an explanation about how affordances may be perceived in the environment with relation to the individual. Body scale can then be viewed as a quantifiable measure of ability for action (Chemero, 2003). This relationship between inclination for action and bodily characteristics directly affect the control for motor action (Adolph & Berger, 2011). For example, a set of stairs afford an infant the opportunity to climb, however if the riser height of the stairs is far too high for the small legs of an infant, the affordance of climb-ability may not be perceived. Body scale should then be strongly considered when construction a learning environment. The learning environment should be directly related to the physical characteristics and abilities of the particular cohort, and change as the individuals change.

Motor Development

Stimulation from the environment is especially critical in the early years of life (Haydari et al, 2009). By providing individuals with a strong contextual support for motor behaviour not only can behaviours be aided to emerge but optimal development can be reached (Haydari et al, 2009).

At birth the nervous system of a child is immature and it s expected to develop throughout the child’s life. The rate and quality of development, though partly genetic and highly individual, can be influenced greatly by contextual or environmental factors – or affordances (Haydari et al, 2009). Once a new motor skill is learned, it must practice it in order to develop sensitivity, accuracy, and consistency of that skill (Adolph & Berger, 2011). In order to do so an environment that affords the opportunity for practice is necessary (Haydari et al, 2009).

Though all children are unique in their biology and lifestyle, most children’s motor development occurs quite typically in a series of stages commonly referred to as developmental milestones or motor milestones (Haydari et al, 2009).

Motor Milestones

The development of motor skills is absolutely critical for an individual to move independently and interact with their environment with meaning and purpose (Gerber et al, 2010). Motor skills sequentially and predictably develop according to the principles of cephalic-to-caudal and proximal-to-distal progression (Gabbard, 2012). This means that the child will develop from the head to the feet and from the inner body to the outer extremities (Gerber et al, 2010). It is also true that skills progress from generalized responses or reflexive movements during infancy to more goal oriented and purposeful actions with increasing accuracy and consistency as the child ages and develops (Gerber et al, 2010). Furthermore, motor skills can be categorized into gross motor skills, those that include larger muscle groups such as running, walking, or sitting, and fine motor skills, those that involve control of smaller muscles such as those in the hands, for example, hand eye coordination and manual dexterity (Gerber et al, 2010). Gross motor skills develop before fine motor skills as they lay the foundations necessary for fine motor skills to arise (Gerber et al, 2010). Understanding motor development provides a base of knowledge on which to determine appropriate environmental contexts for a particular demographic as well as highlight the issues that may be limiting the acquisition of a particular motor skill (i.e. rate limiters). Motor milestones can also provide a reference for typical development in children and aid in identifying possible delays in development and planning intervention (Gabbard, 2012).


Motor development begins before a child is even born (Gabbard, 2012). Reflexes, involuntary movement reactions elicited by a stimulus, emerge as early as three months after conception and continue into the early months of life (Gabbard, 2012). Reflexes can be generally categorized into primitive – those associated with instinct for survival and protection, postural – those that provide the infant with the ability to react to gravitational forces and changes in equilibrium, and locomotor – those that are associated with the development of later voluntary locomotor movements (Gabbard, 2012). Reflexes develop in order to prepare the child for acquisition of specific skills (Gerber et al, 2010). These reflexes persist for a given number of months and typically are inhibited or integrated as the child develops to allow for more purposeful action (Gerber et al, 2010).

Research in motor development has identified a direct relation between reflexes and future voluntary control (Gabbard, 2012). In these studies researchers had infants “practice walking,” by stimulating their stepping reflex, a reflex that is present usually a week after birth and that can be elicited by holding the infant upright with their feet touching a flat supporting surface (the stimulus) (Gabbard, 2012). Results showed that the infants who got to “practice walking” reached independent walking sooner than those who did not (Gabbard, 2012). Another study subjected infants to practice reaching movements during the involuntary reaching phase, by placing an object within reach of the infant, and found that voluntary reaching was accelerated (Gabbard, 2012). This evidence, and that of similar research, suggests that by providing infants with stimuli that may elicit motor action, even in the reflexive stages, motor development may occur faster, as reflexes play an important role in the regulation, strength, and distribution of infant muscularity (Gabbard, 2012). However, caution must be taken when deciding what opportunities to provide to a child. Although affordances can aid in the process of skill acquisition others may actually hinder it (Abbott & Barlett, 2001). Some evidence has suggested that home equipment, such as baby-walkers or exersaucers, might actually prolong the attainment of independent walking and/or promote mechanical errors in gait, as the child may begin to rely on the equipment and not develop the necessary muscular strength for balance and coordination (Abbott,& Barlett, 2001).

Furthermore, care giving practices have been known to play an important role in influencing motor development, with the specific motor advances or delays in development mirroring early care giving practices (Doralp, 2010) Studies have demonstrated significant delay in motor developmental results in children receiving little more than essential physical care (Doralp, 2010), demonstrating the role people play as an affordance to a child.

Rudimentary Behaviour

Rudimentary behaviour describes the first voluntary movement responses of a child that typically occur in the first two years of life and include the achievement of postural control, rudimentary locomotion, and manual control (Gabbard, 2012). As stated earlier, development typically occurs from head to toe and from the inner body to the outer extremities. Accordingly, postural control occurs first, followed by rudimentary locomotion once the infant has sufficient body control and finally, manual control once the hands have been freed for exploration (Gabbard, 2012). Rudimentary behaviour provides the foundation for future fundamental movement skills, and their development can be highly influenced by contextual stimulus (Gabbard, 2012).

Postural control begins to develop in the first month of life (Gabbard, 2012). Beginning with control of the head and upper truck, an infant will first be able to voluntarily hold their head up, then their head and chin, and eventually hold their chest up with arm support in the prone position approximately at four to five months of age (Gabbard, 2012). This is a time when providing “tummy time” to children would be of the utmost importance, as it helps to build strength in their shoulder and neck muscles giving them the ability to prop up, in turn expanding their visual field and providing them with even more stimuli (Chizawsky & Scott-Findlay, 2005). Infants that spend most of their awake-time in the supine position, in swings, or in chairs, have plenty of sensory stimuli around them given their position and therefore have little motivation to roll over, reach out, or creep in search of new sensory experiences (Scott-Findlay, 2005). Once the infant has gained more control of their upper body he/she can begin to roll over from side to back (2 months), back to side (3-4 months), back to stomach (5-6 months), and stomach to back (8 months), eventually gaining enough muscular strength in their core to sit up with support, and eventually alone (9 months)(Gabbard, 2012). Once the infants hands are free, as they have sufficient postural control, they may begin to hold on to objects around them and begin to pull themselves up. This milestone is often reached at around seven to nine months (Gabbard, 2012), at which point providing objects in the environment that allow a child to pull himself to a stand would be of great benefit, and baby proofing the home would be a great idea.

Once an infant has more developed postural control, they can begin to explore a variety of ways to move about their environment. Once they can pull themselves up to a stand they may begin cruising, where they hold on to objects with their hands as they walk along. Cruising is a critical milestone as it allows the infant to improve muscular strength as well as learn to adjust to changing environments and the flow of perceptual information (Gabbard, 2012). A rate limiter for the acquisition of independent walking, could be muscular strength of the legs and therefore providing opportunities that build lower body muscular strength would be valued affordance. When it comes to locomotion, such as crawling, cruising, and walking infants tend adapt their responses to the constraints of their environment (Gabbard, 2012). What this means is that infants are learning to move as they are moving. When they are presented with challenges such as objects in their path, varying surfaces, or different slopes, they update their physical capabilities with the current task (Gabbard, 2012). Therefore providing infants with as many contextual challenges as possible, like learning to walk on a slippery wood floor versus a carpet which provides more friction, would increase their capabilities to learn to adjust themselves accordingly.Mature walking patterns are not a pre-wired neurological occurrence, it is a motor behaviour that must be practiced (Gabbard, 2012).

Manual control begins to develop once an infant has established body control and stability and has their hands free for exploration (Gabbard, 2012). Manual control goes through a range of progressions and the use of sensory information is critical for development (Gabbard, 2012). Providing different toys can help the infant begin to deal with concepts such as varying weights, textures, sizes, and types of objects, all of which will elicit different reactions and contribute to development of the perceptual systems and manual control (Gabbard, 2012).

Fundamental Movement

Following the acquisition of rudimentary motor abilities, the child will progress into the next phase of motor development in which they develop their fundamental movement behaviours, otherwise known as the movement foundation phase since it is upon these behaviours that complex motor programs are formed (Gabbard, 2012). This period typically spans from the ages of two to seven and is concerned with the motor skills that can be grouped into locomotor (ex. Running, skipping, galloping), non-locomotor/stability (ex. Bending, twisting, rocking), or manipulative (ex. Catching, throwing, kicking) (Gabbard, 2012). The motor skills within this phase of development have specific movement patterns; they are series of movements organized in a particular time-space sequence. These patterns are more general, as they will be incorporated into more advanced skills in the following sport skill phase. For example, the overhand throw may be later specialized into a variety of baseball pitches.

The ability of a child to execute a particular movement pattern can be described in stages ranging from initial to mature. Mature movement patterns are skill related rather than age related (Gabbard, 2012). That means that practice is necessary in order to acquire a mature movement pattern, and if practice is not available one may not ever reach a mature stage of a skill. Consequently, if a child does not develop these fundamental skills, they are less likely to acquire movement proficiency in sport specific skills, and in turn less likely to remain active throughout their later years (Gabbard, 2012).

Running, for example, is a locomotor fundamental movement pattern and is characterised by propelling the body forward with no base of support from either leg in which there is a defining flight phase off the ground (Gabbard, 2012). The development of muscular strength and stability is critical to running as there is no base of support during the flight phase. During the initial stages of running there is usually no observable flight phase, normally the legs are further apart to establish a wider base of support, and rather than the arms swinging forward and back, young children often swing their arms horizontally across their body. With practice stride length increases, the base of support narrows, the flight phase is present and increases with proficiency, lateral leg movements are eliminated, and arms and legs swing in opposition among other notable characteristics. An indispensible affordance during this stage of motor development is the availability of accurate feedback from a trained specialist in physical education. Fundamental movement patterns involve many parts of the body moving at the same time, so proficiency depends on coordination and minor body adjustments many of which are not detectable by the child performing the skill. By providing educated individualized feedback to the child about how to correct their errors, they will be more likely to reach a mature movement pattern (Gabbard, 2012). Furthermore, running velocity (a measure of performance) is often improved by the ability to propel the body further with each stride as opposed to moving the legs more frequently (Gabbard, 2012). Having the opportunity to play games or participate in drills that build muscular strength and endurance would be an invaluable affordance for proficiency in running.

Motor development continues into late childhood and through into adulthood until regression begins in late adulthood (Gabbard, 2012) and therefore affordances and opportunity for movement are always important.

Measurement of Affordability: AHMED

The Affordances in the Home Environment for Motor Development (AHEMD) project is an assessment instrument that researchers, educators, and parents can use to assess the quality and quantity of motor development opportunities in the home for children ages 3-18 months and 18-42 months. To measure the affordability of an environment, AHMED measures affordances in five main categories: Outside Physical Space, Inside Physical Space, Variety of Stimulation, Gross Motor Materials, and Fine Motor Materials. The instrument can be found here. AHMED is particularly useful for educators and parents as it asks specific thought provoking questions about the various environments children will spend their time in. Questions include “Is there any furniture or equipment for your child to pull up to a standing position and/or walk?” and “Is there enough space for your child to play/freely move around” for indoor environments, and “are there sloped surfaces” for outdoor environments (Rodrigues, Gabbard, and Cacola, 2008). Furthermore, the AHMED survey includes pictures of toys that afford certain movement skills, such as upright locomotive toys, block sets, and all-in-one play centers that can serve as suggestions for toys that parents and educators should have for their children. This assessment instrument can be self reported (done at home easily by any adult) and calculated using an online tool. The possible scoring for the AHMED tool is based on a scale from 0-20, with a score of 15-20 being a house that provides very good opportunities, and a score under 10 being indicative of an environment with low opportunity. In a study conducted by Haydari, Askari, and Nezhad (2009), it was demonstrated that there was indeed a strong correlation between high AHMED scores and the motor development of a child.

Uses of AHMED

As previously stated, adults may simply overlook these features as they are already adapted to these sorts of environment. In this case, AHMED may help parents, future parents, and educators realize how unaffordable environments may be and act as an intervention – that is how these environments can be modified in order to foster the motor development of children.

Most often, parents perceive educational toys and toys that foster life skills (such as money and counting) over those that afford motor skills (Bredin, 2015). AHMED is a good tool that that educates parents on the variation of skills children can acquire from toys and other play features that parents may not think about buying otherwise. For example, play features presented in AHMED are tunnels. Most parents would rather buy a toy cashier over a tunnel for their children, but AHMED may help the educator/parent realize that tunnels can help afford creeping and crawling of their child.

In addition, AHMED may be useful in improving the relationship between parents and educators in terms of learning motor skills. AHMED can aid parents in affording the household and outdoor environments they are exposing their children to in order to develop fundamental motor skills. On the other hand, knowing what movements most parents are affording for their children, educators can then continue to improve and further the development of these skills (Rodrigues, Gabbard, and Cacola, 2008).

Outdoor Affordances

As household affordances have been emphasized through toys, climbing surfaces, and other methods, the affordances in the outdoors must not be overlooked. In a study conducted by Fjortoft (2001), it was found that an outdoor environment, which included an open area to run around and trees, was seen to have a positive impact on a child’s motor development, specifically helping them to excel in balance and coordination. Heft (1988), created and categorized outdoor affordances which includes, and is not limited to:

  • Flat surfaces, to afford walking, running, cycling, and skating
  • Smooth slopes, to afford coasting, rolling, sliding, and running down
  • Bumpy terrain, to bike on and afford balance
  • Trees, to afford climbing
  • Ledges, to afford walking on (balance), and to jump over
  • Water (lakes, oceans), to afford swimming and floating

It has been observed that the amount of green space for a child to explore is positively correlated to the amount of affordances a child perceives (Kytta, 2002). Being outdoors encourages a child to explore the various terrains (such as rocky paths, hills and slopes, etc), and to use their creativity to discover new skills (for example, rolling down hills) (Kytta, 2002).

Regional Differences

Physical activity levels are heavily influenced by environmental attributes such as place of residence and accessibility to recreational facilities (Tucker, 2007). Studies concerned specifically with children suggest that being outdoors is a significant predictor of levels of physical activity (Tucker & Gilliland, 2007), and therefore seasonal changes and weather conditions create regional differences in affordances for activity. In addition, these varying climates inherently affect the types of affordances available to the child within that given environment. Therefore, it is increasingly critical to consider these factors when it comes to providing children with a) enough physical activity and b) a variety of opportunities for activity within their given environment. Differences in unique environmental experiences during childhood could lead to distinctions among athletes, both in motivation to practice, and in the types of abilities that are developed (Cote et al, 2006).
In addition, in a study conducted by Kytta (2002), it was found that children who live in more urban areas are unable to identify affordances in outdoor environments, compared to those who live in more rural areas. Children who live in more urban areas are more often confined to a smaller space and lack an area to run around and play (Kytta, 2002). With the positive effects of allowing children to play in the outdoors previously stated in the last section, parents should be encouraged to take their child to the park more often if a backyard is not available for a child to explore. If this is not possible, parents/educators living in a more urban area should consider creating more affordances either in the home, if possible, or in a backyard if the house has one.

Applied Examples

Indoor Environments for Infants

As first time parents are amidst of preparing their home for their child, they may be found putting together a nursery, or baby-proofing their homes in order for their infant to be safe during their first year of life; however, parents must ensure that they are also providing affordances, or opportunities, for their child’s motor development as well. During baby showers, common gifts include diapers, baby clothes, and accessories such as high chairs and bottles, but perhaps suggested gifts can include a variety of toys. A large variety of toys are seen to have a positive correlation with motor development in infants (Saccani et al., 2013) – in fact, it was found that the availability of stimulating play materials was more strongly related to child development than global measures of environmental quality, such as socioeconomic status (Saccani et al., 2013). Toys that are beneficial for motor development include puzzles, balls, and locomotor toys (eg. ones that allow for pushing and to help stand).
In addition to toys, parents may want to consider the amount of physical space inside their homes for infants to acquire locomotor skills (Saccani et al., 2013). By having free space for children to move around in, exploratory locomotion, such as creeping, crawling, and walking, are afforded. As well as promoting movement skills of an infant, physical space promotes confidence and cognitive development through the acquisition of the ability to move (Saccani et al., 2013). If a house is particularly small, like tummy time, parents may want to consider having “free space time,” a time where they can push aside furniture and create a space for their child to explore and to play in. However, before an infant can learn to walk, the infant must be able to stand. Balance is especially difficult for infants as when they are born, their heads are often larger than the rest of their bodies, easily throwing off their center of gravity (Gabbard, 2012). To afford this motor skill, parents should also ensure that there are surfaces at an infant’s height that can be used as support as the infant is learning to hold their body weight with their legs on their own.

Hockey in Canada

The recent 2014 Olympic Winter Games were held in Sochi, Russia at which both the men’s and women’s Canadian hockey teams took gold. Are Canadians simply better at hockey? Are they genetically made to excel in this sport? Is it in their blood? Though many would like to think so, a more accurate response to these types of questions is found through understanding the affordances provided to Canadians. The colder Canadian climate affords the conditions for ice to form in the natural outdoor environment; as a result Canadians have access to rinks on which to play, regardless of having access to the indoor facilities. Therefore, the Canadian climate affords the environment to practice hockey. As the sport developed the infrastructure was eventually built to allow people to play even in warmer weather conditions or in places where there weren’t natural rinks, an opportunity that could not be afforded without the economical resources to do so, further emphasizes regional differences of affordances. Furthermore, even within Canada not everybody is afforded the opportunity to play hockey. Hockey is a very costly sport, those with a higher socio-economic status, are more likely to be afforded the opportunity to play and practice. In addition, within those that can afford to play hockey, the way in which the sport system classifies players by birth dates tends to provide more opportunity for development to those born in the earlier months of the year. This phenomenon is known as the relative age effect and it shows that the older one is relative to their peers in the same group/team, the greater the probability of eventually becoming an elite athlete (Cote et al, 2006). The most convincing hypothesis about the relative age effect suggests the older children within the group (based on chronological age) will be provided with the affordances that facilitate the improvement of their skills early in their development (Cote et al, 2006). For example, a coach or teacher may note that the older children in the group are more mature and physically larger and therefore give them more practice time as they see them as more fit for it, thereby facilitating their development and negating the younger individuals of the same opportunity.

Special Populations

Children are all unique, and therefore develop in a very individualized manor (Gabbard, 2012). In light of this, opportunities for movement for one child may not necessarily be fit for another. This is especially true of children with mental and physical disabilities. Take for example, children with down’s syndrome (DS). Typically infants with DS have been documented as being delayed in the development of gross motor skills, such as reaching for objects, crawling, standing, walking, and in fine-motor skills that involve hand manipulation of objects that are characterized by abnormal movement patterns (Norell, 2011). This deficiency in exploration may continue through life and eventually lead to a less developed ability to perceive movement affordances, eventually leading to a more sedentary lifestyle. This draws special attention to the importance of modifying the environment to better suit the abilities of specialized populations. Children with DS tend to have less motivation to explore their surroundings (Norell, 2011), a key to the attainment of knowledge about the environment. This difference is largely attributed to the differences in motor development (Norell, 2011). In addition to differences in motivation, children with DS were also less likely to explore in novel situations in comparison to typically developing (TD) children (Norell, 2011). In a number of studies that compared DS populations with TD populations it was found that children with DS were more motivated to interact with their surrounds in social situations, whereas TD children seemed to be more intrinsically motivated (Norell, 2011). For this particular population, incorporating a more social aspect in their learning environment would be an invaluable affordance, as it may help overcome individual rate limiting factors.


Motor development continues throughout the lifespan and although a lot of the focus is on the early stages of life, affordances are necessary for continued learning as the child progresses from rudimentary and fundamental movement phases into sport specific skills and refinement (Gabbard, 2012). It is critical to remember that ultimately what classifies something as an affordance is determined by the attributes of the particular individual it is intended for (Gabbard, 2012). Therefore, understanding the individual is the first step in planning appropriate movement experiences. Becoming familiar with the stages of motor development, the sequencing of skills, and the obstacles that limit the individual from attaining a particular skill are essential factors in creating appropriate movement experiences, and tailoring the learning environment. Furthermore, if we understand the components necessary to acquire a motor skill, we will be able to provide the missing pieces and potentially afford every child with the equal opportunity to succeed in lifelong athletic development.

This page focuses primarily on the infancy and early childhood periods of life. During these periods the home is a primary environment for the child and is a resource of opportunities that can be conductive to stimulating motor development (Cacola et al, 2011). The Affordances in the Home Environment for Motor Development (AHEMD) project is an assessment instrument that researchers, educators, and parents can use to assess the quality and quantity of motor development opportunities in the home for children ages 3-18 months and 18-42 months. The instrument can be found via Link label


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