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How ‘The Gruffalo’ Helped Academics Boost Youngsters’ Motor Skills and Language Ability

Summary: Using the children’s book, “The Gruffalo”, researchers devised a teaching approach that combined moment and storytelling activities. They report the children that participated in the combined activities showed greater improvement in both language and movement skills than those who were exposed to just one of the activities.

Source: Coventry University.

Combining movement and storytelling activities boosts pre-school children’s key motor skills and language ability, according to Coventry University experts who used bestselling book The Gruffalo during their research.

Academics carried out a six-week study on three groups of youngsters, aged three and four. One group took part in a series of movement activity sessions and another group concentrated on language activities.

The third group took part in a combination of both activities, which were based around Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s popular children’s book The Gruffalo.

And the researchers found the group which took part in combined movement and storytelling activities showed a huge improvement in their motor skills – their ability to run, jump, catch and throw – as well as in their vocabulary.

The experts from the university’s Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences say their research could have potential benefits in physical activity and academic achievement for children and should prompt nursery and primary school teachers to consider combining the two elements into structured activities for their pupils.

The study – published in the European Physical Education Review – involved 74 pre-school children from three nurseries in the Midlands.

The group of youngsters who took part in the combined movement and language sessions joined in activities involving fundamental movement skills – such as jumping, leaping, hopping, sliding, galloping, sipping, throwing and catching.

These activities were based on the different characters in the book – a mouse, owl, fox, snake and the Gruffalo.

They also took part in sessions discussing the story which were designed to enhance their use of descriptive language regarding the characters, their movements and their emotions.

The rest of the children took part in either sessions that only involved the story-telling and language aspect, or just the movement activities without reference to The Gruffalo.

The children were assessed before and after the six weeks, and also eight weeks later, with a series of tests on their motor and language skills.

Motor skills were scored out of 32 based on video of the children’s technique in throwing, catching, running and jumping.

The combined group’s scores leapt by 10 points over the six weeks, while the other groups’ increases were between three and six points.

Language ability scores jumped by 13 points over the six weeks for the combined group, while the other groups’ scores increased by between four and five points.

Tests carried out eight weeks after the project, found all groups had returned to an expected rate of development.

The academics say this is due to what is known as a ‘schooling effect’ – normally seen when children start formal school education.

A ‘schooling effect’ is where children advance quicker when a stimulus or structure activity is in place, but then return to normal development when it has been removed.

The academics believe the reason for the improvement is due to physical activity increasing the amount of oxygen that circulates in the brain, resulting in better academic performance when movement and language sessions are combined.

The research team will present their findings at the European Congress of Sport Sciences on 6 July.

Image shows the Gruffalo and mouse in the deep dark wood.

Activities were based on the different characters in the book – a mouse, owl, fox, snake and the Gruffalo. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to credited to Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler/Macmillan.

Professor Mike Duncan, said:

“This study is the first that has investigated the potential of integrating movement and story-telling into a way of teaching that is practically useable by pre-school teachers.

“We think this is a novel approach and gives an innovative and useful way of improving physical and cognitive performance in young children, which is practical for pre-schools and nurseries to carry out.

“It shows the huge benefits in combining storytelling and movement activities early in a child’s development, before they start school.”

“We chose the Gruffalo as it’s a very popular book with that age range, but the storyline and the characters within it gives great scope for both movement and language activities. The story acts as ‘mental anchor’ for children taking part in the movement activities.”

About this neuroscience research article

In addition to Asaad, the paper’s other authors are Peter Lauro, Janos Perge and Emad Eskandar.

Funding: Funding for the study came from the National Institutes of Health (P20GM103645, 1R01EY017658, 1R01NS063249), the National Science Foundation (IOB0645886), a Tosteson Fellowship, a Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation Young Clinician Investigator Award, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Source: Alison Martin – Coventry University
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler/Macmillan.
Original Research: Abstract for “A combined movement and story-telling intervention enhances motor competence and language ability in pre-schoolers to a greater extent than movement or story-telling alone” by Michael Duncan, Anna Cunningham, and Emma Eyre in European Physical Education Review. Published online June 22 2017 doi:10.1177/1356336X17715772

The study will be presented at The 22nd Annual Congress of the ECSS.

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
Coventry University “How ‘the Gruffalo’ Helped Academics Boost Youngsters’ Motor Skills and Language Ability.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 28 June 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/movement-language-gruffalo-6996/>.
Coventry University (2017, June 28). How ‘the Gruffalo’ Helped Academics Boost Youngsters’ Motor Skills and Language Ability. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved June 28, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/movement-language-gruffalo-6996/
Coventry University “How ‘the Gruffalo’ Helped Academics Boost Youngsters’ Motor Skills and Language Ability.” http://neurosciencenews.com/movement-language-gruffalo-6996/ (accessed June 28, 2017).

Abstract

A combined movement and story-telling intervention enhances motor competence and language ability in pre-schoolers to a greater extent than movement or story-telling alone

This study examined the effect of a six week combined movement and story-telling intervention on motor competence and naming vocabulary in British pre-schoolers. Using a cluster randomised design, three pre-school classes were allocated to one of a combined movement and story-telling intervention (n = 22), or a movement only (n = 25) or story-telling only (n = 27) intervention. Motor competence and language ability were assessed pre, post and eight weeks post intervention. Results from repeated measures ANOVA indicated significantly greater improvement in both motor competence and language ability pre to post intervention for the combined movement and story-telling group compared to the movement only or story-telling only groups. However, for the period post intervention to eight weeks post intervention the magnitude of change for motor competence and language ability was significant for all groups and similar in magnitude. The results of this study demonstrate the efficacy of combining movement and story-telling, over movement or story-telling alone, to benefit both motor competence and language ability in pre-schoolers. Combining both movement and story-telling appears to offer synergistic benefits in relation to physical and communication development, which are critical for good development in the early years.

“A combined movement and story-telling intervention enhances motor competence and language ability in pre-schoolers to a greater extent than movement or story-telling alone” by Michael Duncan, Anna Cunningham, and Emma Eyre in European Physical Education Review. Published online June 22 2017 doi:10.1177/1356336X17715772

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