How to Increase Engagement in Motor Skill Stations

How to Increase Engagement in Motor Skill StationsHow to Increase Engagement in Motor Skill Stations

Do you create motor skill stations to provide movement opportunities at your school?  Do you struggle with what activities to use to increase engagement in motor skill stations?  It can be difficult to create motor skill stations that students engage with long enough to make gains in motor skill level or physical activity levels.  Recently, research was completed to answer these exact problems.

What Does the Research Say?

Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy published research to answer questions such as: what is the range of engagement across different activity stations, what activities have a strong or weak attractiveness to increase practice time, and what activities are able to hold the children’s attention?  The study included 12 four-year-old who participated in a 2x/week motor program for 10 weeks.  The motor program included six to eight motor-skill stations designed to promote locomotor and object-control skills, core balance, spatial awareness, as well as leg and arm strength.  Using wall-mounted video cameras, the total and percentage of time each child spent directly engaged ‘in’ each station was determined.  In addition, the person (self, peer, or teacher) responsible for redirection of activity was also noted.  To determine attraction power, the number of different children who visited a station at least one time during a lesson was measured but holding power was measured as the mean time per focal child entry.

The results from the study on ways to increase engagement in motor skill stations indicated the following:

  •  86.1% of station entries were spontaneously instigated by the children themselves.
  •  on average they visited 4.43 different stations per 30-minute session.
  •  there was a wide range of setting differences in holding power, extending from just a little under a minute’s average stay at kicking stations to involvement lasting four times as long at jumping stations.

The researchers found 3 key components that made the motor skill stations attractive to the children.  The motor skill stations that were the most attractive had elements of:


Do you find that motor skill stations that offer novelty, are relatable and a just right activity level are more attractive and engaging for your students?  As pediatric therapists, we can strive to focus on these three areas.  The novelty factor is huge for us.  We try to keep motor skill ideas fresh and engaging through the use of fun therapy equipment, upcycled toys, and fun games.  Therapy interventions are authentic since we attempt to relate motor skill sessions to functional skills.  And finally matching the skill of the children is rooted in our abilities to create just right activities to challenge a child in addition to create success.

When the motor skill stations were built for success and if the motor skill station had to the potential of modification, the researchers found an increase in holding power.  By creating “just right” activities the children increased holding power (aka sustained attention).

What else can help increase engagement in motor skill stations?

Intrinsic motivation can also increase engagement in motor skill stations.  Intrinsic motivation is completing a skill or activity based on personal interest and enjoyment not for external rewards.  Many times young children need external motivation to complete activities during therapy sessions.  Therapists may use different reward systems such as Punch Cards and Reward Cards for Therapy to encourage children to participate in therapy sessions.  Intrinsic motivation can be harder to facilitate in children.

Tips to increase intrinsic motivation in children

1.  Independent thinking:  Allow the student to work on a certain skill and report back to you how they have improved that skill.  They can improve or change it any way that they think will help.

2.  Provide choices:  Children can be more intrinsically motivated if they have a say in how they are accomplishing a goal.  Try not to make any activity a requirement.

3.  Teach self-direction:  Everyone feels a larger sense of accomplishment when you are able to do something all by yourself.

4.  Power of positive thinking:  Having an “I can” attitude can help tremendously and build up a student’s confidence.  Check out Positive Affirmations Posters and Cards for ideas.

5.  Cooperative learning:  Students may feel more motivated when they can work with other students to help or teach them a skill

6.  Ask questions:  Encourage students to think for themselves rather than provide answers for them.  For example – what suggestions do you have to increase your handwriting speed?

7.  Keep it fun with some competition:  Most kids like to win and feel a sense of pride when they do .  Therapeutic activities can be intertwined with games.

8.  Shoot for your personal best:  Don’t compare your abilities to others but rather that you improve each time.  Teach the student to track his/her own goals to visually represent improvements over time.  Check out My Goal Tracker at for student-generated data collection.

9.  Plan together:  Ask the student how they would like to reach a goal?  Explain what options are available (ie different types of strengthening or aerobic exercises) and plan together what may work best.

10.  Educate the student:  When you are working on a certain activity, explain to the student why you are doing that specific activity and how it will help him/her in their everyday life.

What have you found to be your most successful motor skill stations for preschoolers?

Reference: Hastie, P. A., Johnson, J. L., & Rudisill, M. E. (2018). An analysis of the attraction and holding power of motor skill stations used in a mastery motivational physical education climate for preschool children. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy23(1), 37-53.

Need NO PREP activities for a simple motor skill station?

Classroom Activity PostersCheck out the Classroom Activity PostersThe digital download is a collection of 16 exercise activities, 4 large posters and a brief, simple video demonstration of each exercise.The posters are divided into four groups: posture, alerting, ready to work and focus/balance.  All of the exercises are performed in standing.  Try these activities prior to starting fine motor activities, for posture breaks, to refocus students attention and for vestibular/ proprioceptive input in the classroom.  FIND OUT MORE.

How to Increase Engagement in Motor Skill Stations