Press Release: ‘Practise makes perfect’ – help for children with movement difficulties

Scientists from the University of Leeds have developed a set of practical guidelines for use by teachers, childcare professionals and parents that will help pre-school children with co-ordination difficulties, to improve their dexterity. The work was funded by charity Action Medical Research.

Children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) comprise around five per cent of the population and are sometimes labelled as clumsy or dyspraxic. As they progress through childhood, this lack of movement skill can have long term effects on academic achievement, emotional and social behaviour.  Without help, most children do not improve.

The team believed that it was important not to label children at a very young age but wanted to look at early interventions that might help children develop basic skills in a nursery or at home, before a lack of those skills affected their future development.

The project identified 35 children aged between three and six years who had difficulties with everyday skills such as getting dressed, eating and playing games.  Scientists measured the children’s ability against the Early Years Movement Skills Checklist and then designed three levels of intervention on an escalating scale.  This enabled the children to have individual programmes tailored to their needs.

Over a period of ten weeks, the children worked on activities three or four times a week for about 20 minutes each time.  Results showed that the vast majority of children improved their coordination skills with only three remaining in the category indicating difficulties.

Professor David Sugden who led the research team said,

“Much of the previous work in this area has focused on children aged between six and 11 years, however, three to six years is when children develop fundamental movement skills that are the building blocks for the rest of their lives. We found that children could be labelled as clumsy because they lacked certain basic skills, but it may be simply that they hadn’t the opportunity to try out or practise those skills across a range of different activities.”

Dr Yolande Harley of Action Medical Research, who funded the project, said,

“This project is important because it offers practical help for nursery teachers and parents who see the children everyday, to spot where they may be having difficulties and get the children practising basic skills regularly for a few minutes each time.  This work could have a positive impact on children for the rest of their lives.”

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