A new research brief emphasizes the need to incorporate motor activities in early childhood settings
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new research brief by experts at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, and published by RTI Press, a global publisher of peer-reviewed, open-access publications, presents evidence that activities involving motor skills are essential to helping young children progress in several key developmental areas.
In the brief, Kesha Hudson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at RTI, and her co-author, Michael Willoughby, Ph.D., a fellow and public health analyst at RTI, make the case that a focus on motor skills can specifically help children in North Carolina meet early learning standards developed by the North Carolina Foundations Task Force. North Carolina’s early learning standards encompass five developmental domains and include age-appropriate goals for children between birth and age 5.
“There is a growing body of evidence consistent with ideas put forth over 25 years ago by the National Education Goals Panel, which emphasized the interdependent nature of early development,” said Hudson. “Early childhood educators are faced with the difficult task of helping children develop physically, socially, cognitively, and academically. Focusing on motor skills appears to be a great way to help them grow in all these areas.”
Hudson and Willoughby cite a recent study of 283 children from preschools in central North Carolina that examined whether developmental changes in physical activity levels and motor development were related to improvements in executive function and early numeracy skills. Assessments occurred over three one-week periods in the fall, winter, and spring of an academic year.
Children whose motor skills improved the most between fall and spring also demonstrated the biggest gains in executive function and early numeracy skills, supporting the idea that motor skill development facilitates cognitive development in early childhood.
Hudson and Willoughby also point to an eight-week gross and fine motor skills intervention that was designed to improve children’s motor skills through physically active games and activities. Children who were part of the intervention performed better than children in the waitlist control group on all outcomes.
The brief concludes with several recommendations for early childhood educators:
- Integrate motor skill development in routine classroom activities
- Adjust the complexity of motor activities to the needs of individual children
- Emphasize fun group-based motor activities.