Can your first or second grader tie his shoelaces? Catch a ball? Wield a pencil correctly? These seemingly little milestones are more important than many parents realize, according to a study of more than 8,000 school-age kids in Finland. Having difficulty with these skills is a sign of poor motor function, an increasingly common problem that goes hand in hand with the childhood obesity epidemic. The study, which first looked at weight, height, physical activity, and motor function at age 8, then the academic achievement of the same kids at 16, found that poor motor function may indeed set a child on a path to poor grades.
What’s the connection? A number of studies have found (and it makes perfect sense), that overweight kids are behind in assorted physical skills—they’re simply not getting as much practice as the rest of their peers. The link to academic performance has also been clearly proven—overweight kids get poorer grades plain and simple. That relationship is more complicated, but many experts surmise that overweight kids have lower self-esteem, which then plays out in the classroom. And it’s easy to see the domino effect at work here: a child who is having trouble with motor skills as a preschooler gravitates toward less physical activities, weight gain ensues, confidence dips.
But you needn’t panic—this doesn’t mean a kid who can’t master his laces is doomed. One challenging task does not a delay make. Parents need to watch for a combination of similar symptoms and keep tabs along with their pediatrician. And if they do, it’s an easy fix. Early intervention therapy for motor skills is available free of charge if a child is showing signs of delay. By kindergarten many of these kids have caught up to their peers, and if they haven’t, public schools will continue to provide assistance.
Are you concerned about your child’s motor development? Leave a comment.