Researchers from the University of Leeds studied more than 300 children at Lilycroft Primary School in Bradford, as part of the city’s pioneering Born in Bradford research project.
The findings were so definitive that the school has already re-modelled parts of its buildings and grounds to help children to develop their motor skills and the ability to call on large muscle groups to co-ordinate movement.
The study, published today in the journal Psychological Science, saw the group of four to 11-year-olds take part in computer tasks to measure their co-ordination and interceptive timing – their ability to interact with a moving object.
The tasks were designed to measure eye-to-hand coordination and involved steering, tracking objects and hitting a moving object with an on-screen bat to see how the brain predicts the movement of objects through time and space.
The researchers suggest that this skill may have provided the evolutionary foundations for the emergence of cognitive abilities related to mathematics, a theory first proposed by the famous Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget in the 1960s.
The results revealed that the children who did better at the eye-to-hand coordination tasks tended to have higher academic attainment in reading, writing and maths.
Those with the best performance at the steering task in particular were on average nine months ahead of classmates who struggled.
Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Leeds, Mark Mon-Williams, who supervised the research, said: “The results show that eye-to-hand co-ordination and interceptive timing are robust predictors of how well young children will perform at school.
“The current thinking among psychologists is that the neural circuitry used to build up a child’s understanding of their external environment, the way they orientate themselves spatially and understand their world is also used to process numbers and more abstract thinking. It also raises the question: should schools be identifying those children who are seen as clumsy or not so well coordinated and giving them extra support?
“The study identifies the important relationship between a child’s ability to physically interact with their environment and their cognitive development.”
Lilycroft Primary School has now remodelled its reception, indoor and outdoor areas to include a space where children can develop their motor skills and the ability to call on large muscle groups to co-ordinate movement.
Headteacher Nicola Roth said the school would “harness” the research findings and encourage pupils to develop motor skill and eye to hand co-ordination.
She added: “Playing with construction equipment used to stop when children reached the ages of five or six but we have decided to continue with that until they are nine years old.
“This is one of the ways we have implemented the findings, it is a simple step that can have significant benefits for the children’s wider education.”
Study is one of the world’s largest
The Born in Bradford study has been tracking the health and wellbeing of more than 13,500 children born between March 2007 and December 2010.*
Founded by its director, clinical epidemiologist Professor John Wright, it brings together health professionals and researchers with the aim of using research to improve the health and wellbeing of children in the city. It is one of the largest medical research studies of its kind anywhere in the world and will follow the children into adulthood. Researchers have already gleaned a wealth of knowledge.
The specific University of Leeds’ research was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.