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Toddler Motor Function Closely Tied to Math Skills

Toddler Motor Function Closely Tied to Math Skills

Two-year-olds with poor motor function are more likely to have a poor understanding of math, according to a new study by researchers in Norway. This knowledge will make it easier for teachers to identify children who may need extra help.

“There were big differences in mathematical skill levels between the children with the strongest and poorest motor skills. Most of the children who had poor motor skills were not very good at mathematics.

“We cannot comment on causality, only that the level of mathematical proficiency can be reflected in motor skills,” said Associate Professor Elin Reikerås of the Norwegian Reading Centre at the University of Stavanger.

“It is important that teachers of small children are aware of these findings. It will be easier for them to identify children who may be at risk of having difficulties in understanding mathematics.”

Researchers studied data from the Stavanger Project, which monitors the development of more than 1000 children aged two to ten years in kindergartens and schools in Stavanger. The vast majority of Norwegian children start kindergarten at the age of one.

The researchers divided the children into three groups according to their level of motor skills: poor, average, and strong. They observed whether the children had mastered motor skills such as putting on clothes, doing jigsaws, eating with a spoon and fork, using scissors, walking around the room without bumping into things, using playground equipment, and throwing and catching a ball.

Different math skills were examined as well, such as if the two-year-olds were able to use their fingers to show how old they were, if they could use the shape sorter box, sort toys or objects (according to color, size or category, for example), demonstrate the difference between big and small through the use of body language or words, use numerals (“I have a thousand cars!”), and draw a tadpole.

“Children with good motor skills were more mathematically advanced in all of the areas that were studied, and those with average scores in the motor skills group also had average scores for mathematical skills,” said Reikerås.

The researchers note that both motor and math skills are important for play, discovery, and experience.

“Children create experiences when they use their bodies. This is also important within mathematics. When children play, climb, crawl, and hide outdoors, this contributes to the development of spatial awareness,” said Reikerås.

“Shapes and sizes are explored through drawing, painting, and playing with blocks. Putting on clothes in the right order or sorting and tidying toys requires both logical reasoning and motor skills. Dealing with numbers, such as giving a cup to everyone and then pointing and saying the numbers, also involves connections with motor function.”

Further research is needed into the significance of motor skills and the early development of math proficiency. Since this study only looked at two-year-olds, the researchers do not currently know if children continue to develop within these two areas and if the correlation continues to be as strong later on.

“Even though we have found a close correlation between mathematical skills and motor function, this does not mean that if we just focus on one area there will be also an improvement in the other area,” Reikerås said.

“It is important to facilitate play-based activities where children can develop in several areas at the same time. Both motor and mathematical skills are important for children in the here and now, at play and during everyday activities, but these skills are also important with regard to development and learning.”

“The earlier this foundation is in place, the better it is for the child. Our findings mean that children with poor motor skills should be observed more closely for poor mathematical skills,” she said.

The findings are published in the European Journal of Early Childhood Education.

Source: University of Stavenger


Toddler Motor Function Closely Tied to Math Skills

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Toddler Motor Function Closely Tied to Math Skills. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 10 Sep 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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