Dr Madeleine Portwood conducted assessments of 400 three- to three-and-a-half-year-olds in Durham after noticing more children being referred to her movement difficulties service by Durham County Council. She found that 57 per cent did not achieve the expected levels of movement skills for their age.
Dr Portwood said, 'We found some children were more than six months behind where they should be developmentally. They had difficulty balancing, they couldn't stand on one foot, couldn't run in a straight line. Some of the children were three-and-a-half and had less movement than a two-and-a-half-year-old.'
But only 6 per cent of the children continued to have movement and balance problems after taking part in a 20-week activity programme devised by Dr Portwood.
The council began funding the activity programme as a preventative measure in 2006. It now runs in 83 early years settings. A manual was published this month to be used on its own by parents and practitioners.
Dr Portwood said, 'We put the former figure of 57 per cent down to a lack of opportunity, a lack of practice, and some children would have grown out of it, but some would not. Those who would not, would have developed problems later on with co-ordination and writing.
'There are a lot of contributing factors; a lot is just lifestyle changes. Many children are not crawling because they are laid on their backs because of fears of cot death. Developmentally, it's very important to get children to crawl.'
Beverley Harrison, owner-manager of Kidzone Nursery and Childcare Centre in Crook, has been running Dr Portwood's programme since September.
She said, 'It's exercises like getting children to walk heel- to-toe between parallel lines, side-stepping, and balancing exercises. The main thing is getting them to do those things with their mouths closed and not to walk on their tip-toes.'
See 'Child development: Movement - on the go' by Annette Rawstrone, NW 21 June 2007.