Study: Kids’ Physical Play Linked to Improved Academic Performance

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Jul 12, 2018

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According to a new study by the University of Leeds, children with better hand-eye coordination are more likely to score higher in reading, writing and math. This means schools and families should be concentrating on improving children’s coordination through play as much as they do on improving children’s academic performance, authors say.

Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study involved over 300 students between ages 4 and 11 years, and used computer tasks to measure their coordination and interceptive timing, that is, their ability to interact with a moving object.

The team found children with better hand-eye coordination also saw more academic success in reading, writing and maths. Children who excelled in the ‘steering’ test of coordination, especially, tended to be nine months ahead of their peers academically. Furthermore, researchers found that children’s interceptive timing was linked to their mathematical ability, though no other school skill.

It’s important to note that the study was an observational one, so while statistical evidence points towards a link between physical prowess and educational ability, there is no proof of direct cause and effect. That said, an overwhelming amount of research suggests that children until at least age 7 learn best through play, including the kind of physical play that builds motor skills and coordination. And the newest findings hold special pertinence in a country where academics supersede play and sports in importance, and childhood obesity is on the rise.

“The study identifies the important relationship between a child’s ability to physically interact with their environment and their cognitive development, those skills needed by the child to think about and understand the world around them,” says Mark Mon-Williams, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Leeds, who supervised the research.

Lilycroft Primary School, where the study was conducted is now adopting the findings into their curriculum, by remodelling areas of the school to incorporate space where their children can develop and work on their motor skills and coordination.

“Playing with construction equipment toys 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,” says says Nicola Roth, Lilicroft’s head teacher. “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.”

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Written By Angelina Shah

Angelina Shah is a staff writer with The Swaddle. In her previous life she was a copywriter in advertising. She has a penchant for reading, singing, travelling and being obsessed with superheroes.

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