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Children crouching down in a PE lesson with their teacher

Using movement and story telling to enhance motor and cognitive development in preschoolers


British Academy
Leverhulme Small Research Grant

Total value of project


Project team

Professor Michael Duncan (PI), Emma Eyre

Duration of project

04/04/2016 - 01/03/2017

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Project overview

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.

Project objectives

Good motor skill development is essential for multiple tasks of daily life, especially in early childhood where it is related to participation in health enhancing physical activity, social and cognitive development. Previous research suggested motor development in British children is poor, highlighting a need for effective ways to enhance children’s motor skills, particularly in pre-school aged children. The study sought to pilot an innovative intervention for pre-schoolers whereby movement is linked to storytelling in a fun and accessible manner.

By uniquely combining these components, motor skills were enhanced, but also other abilities such as spoken language e.g. vocabulary. Skills were assessed pre, post and 6 weeks post the intervention in a combined group and two single (story-telling or movement only) control groups. Experiences of early years professionals regarding the intervention were also assessed, leading to the production of a resource allowing others to run the activities either at home or at school.

  • Our research combining FMS development with storytelling activities informed a novel intervention designed to be practically useable by pre-school teachers, with activities based on the popular children’s book ‘The Gruffalo’. This work was utilised as a template within teachers’ ‘INSET’ training across Warwickshire, leading to the incorporation of child-specific resistance training and/or combined movement with storytelling in classrooms. Schools attest to the ‘sustained impact on the physical education outcomes’ of pupils, improving ‘motor-development related outcomes’ and the way it has helped ‘provide continuous professional development’ for teachers, improving provision.

    The research was also utilised by HE institutions in Ireland and Portugal, as well as the UK to inform teacher education programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023