Disadvantaged Preschoolers Struggle with Basic Motor Skills

Disadvantaged urban preschoolers are not only at risk for failure in the
classroom – they are likely to struggle on playgrounds and athletic fields
as well, research suggests.

A new study found that more than eight out of 10 disadvantaged
preschoolers from two urban areas showed significant developmental delays in
basic motor skills such as running, jumping, throwing and catching.

That means that they are at risk of giving up on physical activities and
becoming obese teenagers and adults, according to Jackie Goodway, lead author
of the study and associate professor of physical activity and educational
services at Ohio State University, said.

“These fundamental motor skills – running and catching and
throwing and kicking – are the movement ABCs,” Goodway said in a news
release. “If children don’t learn the ABCs, they can’t read. And
if they don’t learn basic motor skills they won’t participate in
sports or exercise. That’s the problem we may be facing with the children
in this study.”

Goodway conducted the study with two of her former doctoral students:
Leah Robinson, now at Auburn University and Heather Crowe, now at Towson
University. Their study appears in a recent issue of the journal Research
Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

The researchers studied 469 preschool students enrolled in urban,
state-funded programs serving disadvantaged youth. Included were 275 children
who were mostly of African American descent, from a Midwestern city and 194
children who were mostly of Hispanic descent, from a southwestern city.

The children were evaluated using a standardized test of motor skills.
They participated in tests of locomotor skills which included running, jumping,
hopping, leaping, sliding and galloping. They were also evaluated on object
control skills through tests of throwing, catching, kicking, striking,
dribbling and rolling.

Results showed that 86% of the children scored below the 30th percentile
of children nationwide, which is considered developmentally delayed.

“Most people, even many educators, believe that motor skills just
naturally develop in children, but our study shows that’s clearly not
true,” Goodway said. “Like any skill, there needs to be instruction,
there needs to be practice, there needs to be feedback. That’s how
children master these motor skills.”

The problem is that children from disadvantaged, urban neighborhoods do
not get the opportunities that other children have to play outside in parks and
backyards where they can learn how to run and jump and catch footballs and
dribble basketballs.

“Their parks may be full of gangs, they don’t have backyards
that are safe, they are often raised by single mothers who are working multiple
jobs and don’t have time to supervise them outside,” Goodway said.

Goodway said she has developed an intervention program to help
preschoolers and is currently studying its effectiveness.

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