Skip to main content

Motor Skill Competence and Physical Activity in Preschoolers: A Review

Abstract

Objectives Preschoolers 3–5 years of age are in a crucial stage of motor skill competence. While preschoolers develop their motor skill competence through engagement in physical activity, a majority of them fail to meet guideline-recommended physical activity level. This study reviews scientific evidence on the relationship between motor skill competence and physical activity among preschoolers. Methods This systematic review followed the PRISMA framework. Keyword and reference search were conducted in PubMed, Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. Inclusion criteria included—age: 3–5 years of age; setting: preschool environment (e.g., preschool, childcare, head start); main outcomes: motor skill competence and physical activity; study design: cross-sectional study, case–control study, retrospective cohort study, prospective cohort study, or randomized controlled trial; language: English; and article type: peer-reviewed publication. Results Eleven studies met the inclusion criteria, including 6 randomized controlled trials and 5 cross-sectional studies. Studies were conducted in 5 countries: United States (5), United Kingdom (2), Australia (2), Switzerland (1), and Finland (1). Eight out of the 11 studies included in the review reported a significant relationship between motor skill competence and physical activity. The specific pattern and strength of the relationship tend to differ by gender, physical activity intensity, motor skill type, and day of the week (weekdays versus weekends). Conclusions An association has been consistently documented between motor skill competence and physical activity. Future research is warranted to elucidate the underlining causal link, examine potential heterogeneity, and determine the role of environment in the relationship between motor skill competence and physical activity among preschoolers.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

References

  • Alhassan, S., Nwaokelemeh, O., Ghazarian, M., Roberts, J., Mendoza, A., & Shitole, S. (2012). Effects of locomotor skill program on minority preschoolers’ physical activity levels. Pediatric Exercise Science, 24, 435–449.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Anderson, L. M., Petticrew, M., Rehfuess, E., Armstrong, R., Ueffing, E., Baker, P., et al. (2011). Using logic models to capture complexity in systematic reviews. Research synthesis Methods, 2(1), 33–42.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Azevedo, M. R., Araújo, C. L. P., Reichert, F. F., Siqueira, F. V., da Silva, M. C., & Hallal, P. C. (2007). Gender differences in leisure-time physical activity. International Journal of Public Health, 52(1), 8–15.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Barnett, L. M., Morgan, P. J., van Beurden, E., Ball, K., & Lubans, D. R. (2011). A reverse pathway? Actual and perceived skill proficiency and physical activity. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(5), 898–904.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Beets, M. W., Bornstein, D., Dowda, M., & Pate, R. R. (2011). Compliance with national guidelines for physical activity in US preschoolers: Measurement and interpretation. Pediatrics, 127(4), 658–664.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Bellows, L. L., Davies, P. L., Anderson, J., & Kennedy, C. (2013). Effectiveness of a physical activity intervention for Head Start preschoolers: A randomized intervention study. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67(1), 28.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Bonvin, A., Barral, J., Kakebeeke, T. H., Kriemler, S., Longchamp, A., Schindler, C., et al. (2013). Effect of a governmentally-led physical activity program on motor skills in young children attending child care centers: A cluster randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 10(1), 90.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Bornstein, D. B., Beets, M. W., Byun, W., & McIver, K. (2011). Accelerometer-derived physical activity levels of preschoolers: A meta-analysis. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 14(6), 504–511.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Cliff, D. P., Okely, A. D., Smith, L., & McKeen, K. (2009). Relationships between fundamental movement skills and objectively measured physical activity in pre-school children. Pediatric Exercise Science, 21(4), 436–449.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • D’Hondt, E., Deforche, B., De Bourdeaudhuij, I., & Lenoir, M. (2009). Relationship between motor skill and body mass index in 5-to 10-year-old children. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 26(1), 21–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Finn, K., Johannsen, N., & Specker, B. (2002). Factors associated with physical activity in preschool children. The Journal of Pediatrics, 140(1), 81–85.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Fisher, A., Reilly, J. J., Kelly, L. A., Montgomery, C., Williamson, A., Paton, J. Y., et al. (2005). Fundamental movement skills and habitual physical activity in young children. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 37, 684–688.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Foweather, L., Knowles, Z., Ridgers, N. D., O’Dwyer, M. V., Foulkes, J. D., & Stratton, G. (2014). Fundamental movement skills in relation to weekday and weekend physical activity in preschool children. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2014.09.014.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Hinkley, T., Crawford, D., Salmon, J., Okely, A. D., & Hesketh, K. (2008). Preschool children and physical activity: A review of correlates. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 34(5), 435–441.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Holfelder, B., & Schott, N. (2014). Relationship of fundamental movement skills and physical activity in children and adolescents: A systematic review. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15(4), 382–391.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hume, C., Okely, A., Bagley, S., Telford, A., Booth, M., Crawford, D., et al. (2008). Does weight status influence associations between children’s fundamental movement skills and physical activity? Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 79(2), 158–165.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Jaakkola, T., & Washington, T. (2013). The relationship between fundamental movement skills and self-reported physical activity during Finnish junior high school. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 18(5), 492–505.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jones, R. A., Riethmuller, A., Hesketh, K., Trezise, J., Batterham, M., & Okely, A. D. (2011). Promoting fundamental movement skill development and physical activity in early childhood settings: A cluster randomized controlled trial. Pediatric exercise science, 23(4), 600–615.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Junaid, K. A., & Fellowes, S. (2006). Gender differences in the attainment of motor skills on the movement assessment battery for children. Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, 26(1–2), 5–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kambas, A., Michalopoulou, M., Fatouros, I. G., Christoforidis, C., Manthou, E., Giannakidou, D., et al. (2012). The relationship between motor proficiency and pedometer-determined physical activity in young children. Pediatric Exercise Science, 24, 34–44.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Logan, S. W., Robinson, L. E., Wilson, A. E., & Lucas, W. A. (2011). Getting the fundamentals of movement: A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of motor skill interventions in children. Child: Care, Health and Development, 38(3), 305–315.

    Google Scholar 

  • Logan, S. W., Webster, E. K., Robinson, L. E., Getchell, N., & Pfieffer, K. A. (2015). The relationship between motor competence and physical activity engagement during childhood: A systematic review. Kinesiology Review, 4, 416–426.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lubans, D. R., Morgan, P. J., Cliff, D. P., Barnett, L. M., & Okely, A. D. (2010). Fundamental movement skills in children and adolescents. Sports Medicine, 40(12), 1019–1035.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., Altman, D. G., & The PRISMA Group. (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: The PRISMA statement. PLoS Medicine, 6(6), e1000097. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed1000097.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • National Association for Sport and Physical Education. (2002). Active start: A statement of physical activity guidelines for children birth to five years (pp. 5–11). Reston, VA: NASPE.

    Google Scholar 

  • National Association for Sport and Physical Education. (2009). Active start: A statement of physical activity guidelines for children birth to five. Reston, VA: NASPE Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Okely, A. D., Booth, M. L., & Patterson, J. W. (2001). Relationship of physical activity to fundamental movement skills among adolescents. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(11), 1899–1904.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • O’Neill, J. R., Williams, H. G., Pfeiffer, K. A., Dowda, M., McIver, K. L., Brown, W. H., et al. (2014). Young children’s motor skill performance: Relationships with activity types and parent perception of athletic competence. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 17(6), 607–610.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA). (2009). http://prisma-statement.org/2.1.2%20-%20PRISMA%202009%20Checklist.pdf. Accessed March 16, 2015.

  • Robinson, L. E., Stodden, D. F., Barnett, L. M., Lopes, V. P., Logan, S. W., D’Hondt, E., et al. (2015). Motor competence and its effect on positive developmental trajectories of health. Sports Medicine, 45(9), 1273–1284.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Robinson, L. E., Wadsworth, D. D., & Peoples, C. M. (2012). Correlates of school-day physical activity in preschool students. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 83(1), 20–26.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sääkslahti, A., Numminen, P., Niinikoski, H., Rask-Nissilä, L., Viikari, J., Tuominen, J., et al. (1999). Is physical activity related to body size, fundamental motor skills, and CHD risk factors in early childhood? Pediatric Exercise Science, 11, 327–340.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shenouda, L., Gabel, L., & Timmons, B. W. (2011). Preschoolers focus: Physical activity & motor skill development. Child Health & Exercise Medicine Program, 1, 1–2.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stodden, D. F., Goodway, J. D., Langendorfer, S. J., Roberton, M. A., Rudisill, M. E., Garcia, C., et al. (2008). A developmental perspective on the role of motor skill competence in physical activity: An emergent relationship. Quest, 60(2), 290–306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thomas, J. R., & French, K. E. (1985). Gender differences across age in motor performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 98(2), 260.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Timmons, B. W., Leblanc, A. G., Carson, V., Connor, G. S., Dillman, C., Janssen, I., et al. (2012). Systematic review of physical activity and health in the early years (aged 0–4 years). Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 4, 773–792.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trost, S. G., Pate, R. R., Sallis, J. F., Freedson, P. S., Taylor, W. C., Dowda, M., et al. (2002). Age and gender differences in objectively measured physical activity in youth. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 34(2), 350–355.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Tucker, P. (2008). The physical activity levels of preschool-aged children: A systematic review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(4), 547–558.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Census Bureau. (2013). Child Care an Important Part of American Life. http://www.census.gov/library/infographics/child_care.html. Accessed June 12, 2015.

  • Venetsanou, F., & Kambas, A. (2004). How can a traditional Greek dances programme affect the motor proficiency of pre-school children? Research in Dance Education, 5(2), 127–138. doi:10.1080/14617890500064019.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Warren, J. M., Ekelund, U., Besson, H., Mezzani, A., Geladas, N., & Vanhees, L. (2010). Assessment of physical activity: A review of methodologies with reference to epidemiological research: A report of the exercise physiology section of the European Association of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation. European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation, 17(2), 127–139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams, H. G., & Monsma, E. V. (2006). Assessment of gross motor development. http://www.ed.sc.edu/personnel/monsma/8a9e555517ec8322acee77454347828a.pdf. Accessed April 8, 2015.

  • Williams, H. G., Pfeiffer, K. A., O’Neill, J. R., Dowda, M., McIver, K. L., Brown, W. H., et al. (2008). Motor skill performance and physical activity in preschool children. Journal of Obesity, 16(6), 1421–1426.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Roger Figueroa.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

No conflict of interest was declared.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Figueroa, R., An, R. Motor Skill Competence and Physical Activity in Preschoolers: A Review. Matern Child Health J 21, 136–146 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-016-2102-1

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-016-2102-1

Keywords

  • Physical activity
  • Motor skill competence
  • Preschooler
  • Systematic review