Motor Skills and Mathematics

motor skills, ece, learning at home, early childhood education, math
My two-year old is clumsy (my genes). She walks ahead while staring in a completely different direction and collects bumps, scratches and bruises, daily. I am worried that a medical authority will see her and be suspicious of my parenting. I now have a new concern: all this means that she might be bad at math.

A new, Norwegian study looked at the motor skills of 450 two-year-olds. The researchers observed the children, watching how they would put on clothes, do a jigsaw, use scissors and walk around the room without bumping into things. They then divided the children into groups according to their motor skills (good, bad and average).

Each group was subjected to “mathematical tasks.” These were two-year-olds so it was hardly calculus. Instead they were asked to use fingers to reveal their age, use a shape sorter box and categorize objects according to shape, size and colour, use numbers in sentences and (my favourite) draw a tadpole.

The researchers found that children who had good motor skills were good at math, those who had average motor skills were somewhere in the middle and those who had bad motor skills tended to be worse.

“There were big differences in mathematical skill levels between the children with the strongest and poorest motor skills. Most of the children who had poor motor skills were not very good at mathematics. We cannot comment on causality, only that the level of mathematical proficiency can be reflected in motor skills”, one of the authors of the study said.

These results were preliminary and more long-term studies are necessary to see if the link between maths and motor skills remained as the children grew older.

However, the study served to highlight the importance of play and physical activity for toddlers as one of the lasting effects of early education. It also suggests that teachers can keep an eye on clumsy kids, like my daughter, and take a closer look at any learning gaps that they may have.

“It is important that teachers of small children are aware of these findings. It will be easier for them to identify children who may be at risk of having difficulties in understanding mathematics. This knowledge can ensure that teachers and staff are quicker to help and support such children with mathematics,” the authors said.


Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one.  She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.