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Disadvantaged children may fall short in basic motor skills

April 26, 2010 |  3:52 pm

Disadvantaged kids may struggle more in the classroom, but they also might face hurdles on the playground as well.

JjykvbncA new study finds that the vast majority of underprivileged preschoolers who were tested scored below the 30th percentile of children across the U.S. That ranking is considered developmentally disabled.

Researchers studied 469 preschoolers who were enrolled in urban, state-funded programs that assist disadvantaged kids. Of that group, 275 were mostly African American and from a city in the Midwest, and 194 were mostly Hispanic and from a southwestern city.

The boys and girls were given standardized motor skill tests, both for locomotor ability (running, jumping, skipping, leaping) and object control skills (throwing, kicking, rolling, catching).

Average scores for both skill tests showed 86% of the children had developmental delays at or below the 30th percentile. When the data was broken down by gender, boys routinely scored higher than girls. Although there was no control group to which the researchers compared scores, they believe the results are dramatic enough to warrant interventions, as well as more understanding of gender disparities.

"These fundamental motor skills -- running and catching and throwing and kicking -- are the movement ABCs," said Jackie Goodway, the study's lead author, in a news release. Goodway, associate professor of physical activity and educational services at Ohio State University, added, "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 added that while most people may believe that children naturally develop motor skills, she believes that's not always the case. "Like any skill," she said, "there needs to be instruction, there needs to be practice, there needs to be feedback. That's how children master these motor skills."

The study appears in the March issue of the journal Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times