A modern-day classic by any standards, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s bestselling children’s book The Gruffalo has now been used by child development experts to boost pre-school children’s motor and language skills.
Researchers from Coventry University’s Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences in the UK have used the popular book in a six-week study focusing on three groups of children, aged three and four. The team found that combining movement and storytelling activities boosts pre-school children’s key motor skills and language ability.
The experts say their research, published in European Physical Education Review, 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.
Professor Mike Duncan, a sport and exercise scientist with research interests in the field of children, physical activity, exercise and obesity, says the findings have practical applications:
“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.”
Professor Duncan also commented that the book is ideal for promoting movement and language:
“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.”
The 74 pre-schoolers who took part in the study were split into three groups. One group took part in a series of movement activity sessions, another group concentrated on language activities, and the third group took part in a combination of both activities. The activities were based on the different characters in the book – mouse, owl, fox, snake and, of course, the Gruffalo. 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 children were assessed before and after a six week period, 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 experts 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 team will present their findings at the European Congress of Sport Sciences on Thursday.