Testing babies' motor skills development 'could help prevent learning delay'

Catherine Gaunt
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Babies who are behind in their development at the age of nine months are more likely to have learning and behavioural problems at the age of five, according to a major study published today.

Researchers from the Institute of Education in London analysed the motor skills of nearly 15,000 children taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study, which is looking at babies born between 2000 and 2001.

They concluded that screening babies to assess whether they are crawling or able to hold objects before the age of one could help identify those children who need extra support with their learning before they start school.

‘We found that delay in gross and fine motor development in a child’s first year – which affects about one in ten children – was significantly associated with delayed cognitive development at age five. Delay in gross motor development also has a significant impact on the child’s behavioural adjustment at five. This additional finding confirms the importance of screening for developmental delay before the first birthday,’ the researchers said.

The findings also revealed a gap in ability between children who were growing up in persistent poverty and those in families that had never received means-tested benefits.

After examining the relationships of disadvantaged mothers with their children, the researchers found that a good mother-child relationship significantly benefits the cognitive and behavioural development of children living in poverty.

‘Our findings also suggest that policy interventions aiming to promote positive development of children should provide support for parents too. If parents’ mental health and self-esteem are undermined by hardship, this could affect their parenting interactions with the child,’ they said.

Reading benefits

Children who are read to every day at the age of three are likely to flourish in a range of subjects during their reception year at school, another analysis of data from the Millennium Cohort Study found.

Dr Kirstine Hansen analysed the Foundation Stage Profile results of 10,000 children and found that children who were read to daily had better scores in communication, language and literacy, mathematical development andknowledge and understanding of the world.

Although she acknowledged that daily reading to children could be an indicator of more general parenting behaviour that benefits child development, Dr Hansen said that the finding should be examined further to see if there were ways of helping disadvantaged children before they start school.

The survey’s full findings are published in Children of the 21st Century (volume 2): the first five years, which is available from http://www.policypress.co.uk.

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