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Movement Experiences for Young Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion


A question that most movement practitioners often ask is what can be done to enhance the learning experience of beginners as they acquire a new skill. A successful learning experience will largely depend on the cooperative efforts between the practitioner and the learner (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000). While the learner is responsible for identifying the skill to be practiced and set realistic goals, the practitioner functions to assist the individual perform a given task (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000).

Effective guided practice is essential for optimal motor learning. Instructions are often an important feature in a formal teaching setting, either in spoken or written form (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000). However, certain tasks, especially complex movements, may present difficulty conveying instructions verbally (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000). For instance, describe the procedures involved in tying shoelaces. In this case, a visual step-by-step demonstration of shoe tying would be complimentary to instructions. This type of skill presentation techniques is referred to as modeling, a practice procedure in which a person demonstrates a task to be practiced (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). It can also be thought as observational learning, the process by which a person learns a new skill from observing the performance of others (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000).

Theoretical Foundations

Piaget's Sensorimotor Stage: Child development in imitative learning

Children learn through observation at an early age (Myers, 2011). According to Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, the Sensorimotor Stage (birth to nearly 2 years) is where infants experience the world through senses and motor activities such as touching, looking, hearing, mouthing, and grasping (Myers, 2011). Such period is thought to be when a child first learns how to look for learning cues and acquire social behaviors in a given environment (Myers, 2011).

Bandura: Social Learning Theory

Observational learning was first introduced by Albert Bandura in his famous Bobo Doll experiment in 1965. A Bobo Doll is a toy with high specific weight at the bottom which allows it to return to an upright position after being pushed (Bandura, 1986). Children were shown videos of adults hitting the doll and were then placed in a room with a Bobo Doll (Bandura, 1986). It was evident that children have learned the aggressive behavior via observational learning, which can be reinforced with rewards (Bandura, 1986).

Four Conditions to be fulfilled for Effective Modeling

  1. Attention: Observer needs to attend to relevant elements in the learning setting (Bandura, 1986)
  2. Retention: Observer needs to store and translate obtained information into memory (Bandura, 1986)
  3. Initiation: Observer needs to be able to transform motor concepts into actions (Bandura, 1986)
  4. Motivation: Observer needs to be driven to perform the task (Bandura, 1986)

What is Learned by Observation?


Movement strategies can be learned by observation. In a study by Martens, Burwitz, and Zuckerman (1976), observers were asked to move a ball on top of two rods by varying the distance between the rods after viewing two strategies, “creeping” and “ballistic”, being modeled. Participants tended to mimic the strategies that were observed when performing the task (Martens, Burwitz, & Zuckerman, 1976).

Spatial Information

Spatial information can be modelled effectively when spatial features are presented in a discrete manner (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). This is evident in multiple experiments conducted by Carroll and Bandura (1990) and Weeks, Hall, and Anderson (1996) in which spatial information was learned through modeling. Modeling of dynamic skills has also been shown to be effective in the study by Gray, Neisser, Shapiro, and Kouns (1991), who reported greater benefits watching ballet videos than a series of still images. Moreover, even very fine spatial information such as surgical techniques and procedures is more effectively attained through observation (Custers, Regehr, McCulloch, Peniston, & Reznick, 1999).

Expert versus Learning Models

It has been traditionally assumed that experts, rather than novices, make the best models. However, Pollock and Lee (1992) have reported little evidence to support this when examining the effectiveness of expert and learning models on beginners. An expert model involves an expert demonstrating a task, while a learning model displays a novice learning a task for the first time (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). A recent study by Buchanan and Dean (2014) supported the previous hypothesis that model skill level has a minimal impact on observational learning. In addition, it was noted that it is the consistency in modeled movement strategies that aids in the development of an abstract representation of the task, an information that later contributes to the execution of movement (Buchanan & Dean, 2014). More surprisingly, in certain cases, the use of learning model results in greater benefits than using an expert model. Research by Adams (1986) has shown that the use of the model’s knowledge of results enhances motor learning benefits from a learning model. The knowledge of results (KR), which is the experimenter’s feedback to the model post-performance, is crucial for observers because it allows them to gain information from the movement performed, from the augmented feedback provided to the model, and from the success attempts the model makes based on KR (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). As a result, novice athletes will not benefit from watching experts unless given visual and verbal cues (Janelle, Champenoy, Coombes, & Mousseau, 2003). It is likely that we learn best using learning models and from mistakes that the models make (aka KR).

Scheduling Observational Practices

Researchers have shown that the most successful method in the use of models is interspersing demonstrations with physical practice trials by the observer (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). The reason is that this type of scheduling allows learners to be actively engaged in the learning process (continually observe, attempt, and correct mistakes), as opposed to having a single session of demonstrations prior to practice (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). It also allows for more resting time between practice trials, which had been shown to be important for learning (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). A study conducted by Vinter and Chartrel (2010) further supported the positive effect of alternating observational and physical practice in a child cursive writing study. It has been shown that children who underwent visual-motor training exhibited higher letter quality and movement fluency levels, as compared to pure observational and pure physical practices (Vinter & Chartrel, 2010). Similar conclusions were made by Ong and Hodges (2012) who, utilizing 25% physical practice and 75% observation, supported that mixed practice aids strategic learning and autonomic motor acquisition. Hence, it is highly recommended for coaches and physical education teachers to create a mixed schedule of observational and physical practices in order to enhance skill acquisition in young children.

Modeling and Physical Activity

Child Physical Inactivity and Obesity in Canada

  • Over the past 3 decades, childhood obesity has tripled; Canadian children are weaker and heavier than the previous generation (ParticipACTION, 2013).
  • Only 5% of children aged 5- 17 are meeting the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines of at least 60 minutes of daily moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily (ParticipACTION, 2013)
  • Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for mortality worldwide (ParticipACTION, 2013)

Social Learning and Physical Activity in Children

Given that children are surprisingly inactive and that physical activity habits tends to persist into adulthood, the influence of modeling on physical activity should not be underestimated (DiLorenzo, Stucky-Ropp, Vander Wal, & Gotham, 1998). It has been shown that modeling, which was defined as the number of adults in home and friends who exercise regularly, were significantly related to childhood activity levels (Hofstetter, Hovell, & Sallis, 1990). Modeling, along with other social variables such as family and peer support, was reported to be one of the most predictors of self-efficacy specifically related to vigorous exercise, with contemporary modeling being a stronger correlate than historical modeling (Hofstetter, Hovell, & Sallis, 1990). Both have a causal effect on self-efficacy, which directly influence physical activity levels in children (Hofstetter, Hovell, & Sallis, 1990). Other studies that examined activity behaviors in elementary school children supported that parental modeling of physical activity is a predictor of activity in girls (Stucky-Ropp & DiLorenzo, 1993), and in both boys and girls (DiLorenzo, Stucky-Ropp, Vander Wal, & Gotham, 1998). Hence, modeling is one important social variable to increase physical activity and reduce the prevalence of obesity in children.

Practical Applications

General Recommendations for practitioners

  • Practitioners should consider using modeling in addition to verbal or written instructions, especially for complex motor tasks
  • Practitioners should implement a mixed schedule of observational and physical trial practices, instead of pure observational or pure physical practices to maximize motor learning
  • Practitioners are advised to use learning models rather than expert models because observers tend to learn from the model’s mistakes and attempts to success
  • Practitioners should provide the model’s knowledge of results to the observer
  • Social modeling of exercise from parents is highly recommended to promote exercise self-efficacy and increase physical activity levels in children

Activities that promote observational learning

The following activities are recommended for infants who are six to nine months old to enhance observational learning skills (Stanislaus County, 2013).

  • Imitating banging: Bang with your hands on a hard surface and see if the infant will bang with you. When he does, say "bang, bang, bang". Once the infant has mastered this activity see if he will imitate you when you bang with a spoon.
  • Clapping: Clap your hands and encourage the infant to clap his. Once he can imitate clapping see if he will clap when he's given the verbal command.
  • Waving: Substitute waving for clapping in the above activity.
  • Body parts: Use a large doll with clear features. Show baby how to point to the eyes, ears, nose, mouth. Next, teach him to point to his own body.
  • Blowing: Show the infant how to blow.
  • Smelling: Show the infant how to smell a flower.


Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action : a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Buchanan, J., & Dean, N. (2014). Consistently modeling the same movement strategy is more important than model skill level in observational learning contexts. Acta Psychologica, 146, 19-27.

Carrol, W., & Bandura, A. (1990). Representational guidance of action production in observational learning: A causal analysis. Journal of Motor Behavior, 22, 85-97.

Stanislaus County (2013). Activities to encourage language and imitation. Retrieved from

Custers, E. J., Regehr, G., McCulloch, W., Peniston, C., & Reznick, R. (1999). The effects of modeling on learning a simple surgical procedure: See one, do one or see many, do one? Advances in Health Sciences Education, 4(2), 123-143.

DiLorenzo, T. M., Stucky-Ropp, R. C., Vander Wal, J. S., & Gotham, H. J. (1998). Determinants of exercise among Children. II. A longitudinal analysis. Preventive Medicine, 27(3), 470-477.

Gray, J., Neisser, U., Shapiro, B., & Kouns, S. (1991). Observational learning of ballet sequences: The role of kinematic information. Ecological Psychology, 3(2), 121-134.

Hofstetter, C. R., Hovell, M. F., & Sallis, J. F. (1990). Social learning correlates of exercise self-efficacy: Early experiences with physical activity. Social Science & Medicine, 31(10), 1169-1176.

Janelle, C., Champenoy, J., Coombes, S., & Mousseau, M. (2003). Mechanisms of attentional cueing during observational learning to facilitate motor skill acquisition. Journal of Sports Science, 21(10), 825-38.

Martens, R., Burwitz, L., & Zuckerman, J. (1976). Modeling effects on motor performance. Research Quarterly, 47, 277-291.

Myers, D. G. (2011). Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Ong, N., & Hodges, N. (2012). Mixing it up a little. How to schedule observational practice. In N. Hodges, & M. Williams, Skill Acquisition in Sport: Research, Theory and Practice (pp. 22-39). London: Routledge.

ParticipACTION. (2013). The impact of physical inactivity. Retrieved from

Pollock, B., & Lee, T. (1992). Effects of the model's skill level on observational motor learning. Research Quarterly, 63, 25-29.

Schmidt, R. A., & Lee, T. D. (2005). Motor control and learning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Schmidt, R. A., & Wrisberg, C. A. (2000). Motor learning and performance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Stucky-Ropp, R., & DiLorenzo, T. (1993). Determinants of exercise in children. Preventive Medicine, 22(6), 880-889.

Vinter, A., & Chartrel, E. (2010). Effects of different types of learning on handwriting movements in young children. Learning and Instruction, 20, 476-486.

Weeks, D., Hall, A., & Anderson, L. (1996). A comparison of imitation strategies in observational learning of action patterns. Journal of Motor Behavior, 28, 348-358.