Do Early Fine Motor Skills Matter?

In a recent study published in Biological Psychiatry, 9,000 preschool children were asked to draw, fold paper, and pile up blocks — skills that require careful manipulation of objects with hands, referred to as 'fine motor skills.' The children were assessed at ages 2, 3 and 4 to get a sense of their overall fine motor skills during the preschool period. The children were then followed up through their childhood and adolescence as part of a longitudinal study, the Twins Early Development Study. The children's GCSE results at age 16 were recorded, as well as their behavior across childhood and adolescence, including traits relating to ADHD.  

Surprising Results 

The study showed that fine motor skills were associated with higher GCSE grades at age 16. Lower fine motor skills during the preschool years were associated with more behavioral problems and more ADHD symptoms during the primary and secondary school years. These links still held when socioeconomic factors, including parent qualifications and employment, were taken into account. 

The authors suggest that preschool fine motor skills, including drawing, folding paper and block building, may play an important role in the pathway between infancy and later educational and behavioral outcomes in primary and secondary school. 

“I was surprised by the extent of the results we found,” said Aislinn Bowler, the first author of the study. “When I set out to do this study, I suspected that early fine motor skills might be important. I was startled to find that fine motor skills have such wide-ranging connections to later outcomes, extending not only into primary school age but into adolescence as well.”

Beyond The Classroom 

In a further step, the authors worked with measures of genetic propensity for educational attainment and behavior. These measures of genetic propensity are referred to as polygenic scores. These measures give an indication of a sum of the inherited predisposition for particular traits. Their study reported evidence that the inherited propensity for staying longer in education was associated with better early fine motor skills. The inherited propensity for ADHD was associated with more challenges with preschool fine motor skills.

“Activities that fall under fine motor skill development, such as block building and drawing, may often be perceived as simply 'play' by parents, caregivers and education providers,” said Professor Angelica Ronald, University of Surrey Professor of Psychology and Genetics. “But, our study suggests that the development of fine motor skills is part of the pathway that leads to educational outcomes and behavior later on. Parents are sometimes provided with free books for their young children; policymakers should consider supplementing books with blocks or drawing materials.”

The authors are keen to note that further research is needed to ascertain the exact role that fine motor skills play in influencing children's later outcomes. If a causal role was discovered between fine motor skills and later outcomes, it would be important for this to influence public policy and the Government's Early Years Framework to ensure these were evidence-based.   

StepUp Note

This research shows again the great importance of fine-motor skills in all of our learning.  Early handwriting is learned by “drawing” the letters.  Through repetition, the written letters are moved into muscle memory and become fluent handwriting. Children differ by how much practice they need to move written letters into muscle memory.  StepUp to Learn uses air writing and rhythmic writing to move handwriting into muscle memory.  Research shows that handwriting is a tool which affects both reading and fluent written language.

Note by Nancy W. Rowe, MS, CCC/A

Reposted from University of Surrey 



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