Kindergarten Fine Motor Skills and Executive Function: Two Non-Academic Predictors of Academic Achievement




Carlson, Abby

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Recent research has found that children's fine motor skills and executive function prior to elementary school are associated with later academic achievement. The current study explored this association further by examining these two constructs in relation to children's growth in math and reading achievement through 8th grade using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten cohort, a large-scale, longitudinal dataset. Fine motor skills were measured in the Fall of kindergarten using seven items from the Early Screening Inventory - Revised (ESI-R; Meisels, Marsden, Wiske, & Henderson, 1997). Executive function was measured using the Approaches to Learning and Self Control subscales of the Social Rating Scale (SRS; Meisels & Atkins-Burnett, 1999), a teacher report completed in the Fall of kindergarten. Fine motor skills and executive function were used to predict growth in math and reading achievement using achievement scores collected at six time points from kindergarten through the end of middle school. These achievement scores were used to create two growth models in a structural equation modeling (SEM) framework using AMOS software (Arbuckle, 2003) - one for math and one for reading. Fine motor skills and executive function were entered into the SEM as predictors of growth in achievement. In order to understand potential moderating effects of executive function, multigroup analysis was also used to determine if the associations between these non-academic skills and children's achievement trajectories differed depending on kindergarten executive function skills. Findings indicated that both fine motor skills and executive function measured at kindergarten entry predicted growth in math and reading achievement through middle school after controlling for gender, socioeconomic status, and early math and reading skills. These associations were positive, such that starting kindergarten with better fine motor skills or executive function ratings was related to steeper rates of growth in both math and reading. Additionally, there were significant differences in achievement growth based on the high and low executive function groups. Children who started kindergarten with high executive function skills grew academically at a greater rate than those who started with low executive function skills. Previous studies linking fine motor skills and executive function to achievement have not explored the association between these two skills and growth in achievement. Rather, research has primarily focused on single time points of achievement in elementary school. Therefore, the present study provides new information about these associations further into children's academic careers, as well as examining links with growth in achievement over time. Possible implications for educational practices are discussed, including the potential need for more explicit instruction in these areas in early childhood.



Developmental psychology, Early childhood education, Academic achievement, Executive function, Fine motor skills, Growth in achievement, Visual-spatial integration