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The relationship between motor performance and executive functioning in 3- to 5-year-old children

Does operationalization matter?
PhD ceremony:Ms G.J. (Gerda) van der Veer
When:May 12, 2022
Supervisor:prof. dr. A.E.M.G. (Alexander) Minnaert
Co-supervisors:dr. S. (Suzanne) Houwen, M.H. (Marja) Cantell, Dr
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences

Bram is a 4-year-old kindergartner. He performs well in linguistic tasks. The teacher observes that Bram is good at gross motor tasks, such as running and cycling, but struggles with fine motor tasks, such as coloring. Bram can keep his attention in structured activities, but he struggles with complex tasks and has difficulty waiting for his turn.

This example from daily educational practice raises questions like: Why does Bram have difficulties in certain developmental areas, while he does well in others? And, how can we support his development? In order to answer these questions, knowledge about the complex relationship between motor performance and executive functioning (EF) in young children is needed. Therefore, the aim of this dissertation was to examine to what extent motor performance and EF are related in 3- to 5-year-old children. In addition, we examined to what extent different kinds of assessment tools for motor performance and EF influence their relationship.

Our research suggests that there is an overall weak relationship as well as specific weak relationships between motor performance and EF in young children. Interestingly, the type of EF assessment tool (child assessment or parental report), or response type (verbal or motor), did not influence the relationship between motor performance and EF. A practical recommendation is that early childhood teachers should notice and support both motor performance and EF. Furthermore, if there are concerns regarding either of these developmental domains, it is recommended to systematically assess them both.