July 21, 2021

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) Exercises Parents Can Do with Their Children to Enhance Coordination

Children diagnosed with developmental coordination disorder can benefit from physical therapy and at-home exercises

Key takeaways:

  • Developmental coordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, can affect a person’s coordination, motor skills, and motor planning.
  • Children with dyspraxia may struggle to maintain balance, learn new movements, or sequence complex movements.
  • Certain exercises can help strengthen muscles and improve balance and coordination.
  • You can do many of these activities at home to enhance physical therapy sessions.

Coordination is something many of us take for granted. The ability to do things like hit a ball or do jumping jacks actually involves multiple steps, planning, and accuracy, however. Though we all have different levels of coordination, we want to be able to complete complex body movements.

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, affects coordination, balance, and motor skills. For the children that have it, even simple movements can be difficult to learn and master.

If your child has been diagnosed with DCD, pediatric physical therapy can help greatly, and the lessons don’t need to end after a visit. There are plenty of exercises you can do at home that can enhance a physical therapy session and improve your child’s coordination.

Developmental Coordination Disorder

There is a range of severity within DCD, wherein in a mild case a child may simply be a bit clumsy, but on the more severe end, he or she is not able to dress, groom, or play. DCD can cause a child to drop or bump into things frequently. It can cause a child to lack motor skills, such as manipulating a pencil or spoon.

While it might be easy to write it off as clumsiness, it is more about how the brain communicates with the body. Basically, the body is having trouble doing what the brain tells it to do.

DCD can impair a range of movement skills, including:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination

Children may struggle with several motor abilities, such as:

  • Maintaining balance
  • Changing movements in new situations
  • Moving the body in the right way
  • Learning new movements
  • Sequencing of complex actions/movements

Two types of DCD and motor skills

Motor skills can be broken down into two types: gross and fine motor.

Gross motor skills are complex movements that involve the whole body and its core muscle groups, including the trunk, arms, and legs. Balance, coordination, and hand-eye coordination are all involved in gross motor skills.

Examples of gross motor skills include:

  • Sitting
  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Lifting
  • Kicking

Gross motor skills can also involve complex activities like riding a bike, playing sports, (throwing/catching/hitting a ball) and swimming. Of course, these skills develop as your child grows. Babies begin to develop hand-eye coordination in the first few months of life. By around 12 months, they’re usually standing and walking. Skills like balancing on one foot, jumping rope, and dribbling a ball happen around age three-five. Riding a two-wheel bike might take longer.

Fine motor skills involve smaller muscles in the hands, wrists, and fingers. These skills are needed to do most activities of daily living motor tasks, including eating, writing, and getting dressed.

Babies develop fine motor skills from the moment of birth. Development starts with things like placing the hands in the mouth (0-3 months), followed by moving a toy from one hand to the other or shaking a toy (3-6 months), and grasping at objects (6-9 months). By age 3-4, many children can button/unbutton a shirt, use scissors, and color on a page.

Children with DCD may struggle with one or both types of motor skills. Although there is no cure, children with DCD can be taught how to learn complex motor skills. A physical and/or occupational therapist may be vital to help diagnose the condition and in turn come up with a unique treatment plan to address your child’s needs to improve age-appropriate safe, independent and functional mobility.

Meanwhile, let’s get to those exercises that you can do at home. Don’t worry, these activities are meant to be fun!

Exercises to improve motor coordination

These activities are meant to target different muscle groups or coordination deficits. Some target multiple muscle groups. They can be adjusted according to your child’s age and general strength. As always, ask your doctor or therapist for suggestions and seeing a therapist in person can help tailor these activities to your child’s individual needs.

Shoulder muscles:

  • Wheelbarrow racing
  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups

Core muscles/trunk:

  • Sit-ups
  • Bridging

Hand-eye coordination & visual tracking:

  • Throwing/catching a ball
  • Tennis, table tennis, baseball, and football

Bilateral (right-left) coordination:

  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Throwing/catching a ball
  • Climbing a jungle gym or step ladder

Hand skills:

  • Rock, Paper, Scissors
  • Rolling play dough
  • Playing piano


  • Tandem walk
  • Standing on one leg, with eyes open and closed
  • Walking backward
  • Hop on one leg

Activities that target multiple muscle groups or coordination issues:

  • Dribbling a basketball
  • Jumping rope
  • Kicking a soccer ball
  • Hand-clapping games (patty cake, Miss Mary Mack, Slide)

These activities can help develop many skills, including motor planning, gross and fine motor skills, coordination, mental focus, counting, and rhythm.

Physical Therapy at Lumiere Children’s Therapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy can help your child with DCD. We provide expert physical therapy services designed to help children develop physically using guided movements through therapy and play. Treatment plans include a team-based approach that builds gross and fine motor skills, along with coordination, muscle strength, and balance.

Along with DCD, we can help children with other conditions, including:

  • Developmental motor delays
  • Delayed ambulation
  • Flat foot, toe walking, and clubfoot
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Spina bifida
  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • Brachial plexus injuries

We also provide other comprehensive therapies so children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions can achieve traditional milestones.

Our services include:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • ABA Therapy
  • Social work
  • Augmentative alternative communication
  • Early intervention
  • Teletherapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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