Teaching four and five-year-olds the physical skills that underpin reading and writing at the same time as early literacy skills leads to big improvements in children's learning, a groundbreaking study has found.
Edith Cowan University senior education lecturers Deb Callcott and Lorraine Hammond said their year-long study of more than 400 pre-primary students from eight schools highlighted the need to balance the increased emphasis put on formal learning in the early years with teaching traditional co-ordination skills.
Dr Callcott said curriculum changes that required children to be able to read and write from an earlier age meant that pre-primary students were spending longer sitting on a mat or working at desks.
She devised exercises set to nursery rhymes to help children develop specific skills needed for reading and writing, such as holding a pencil, tracking eyes across a page and sitting up straight in class.
Teachers in two of the eight schools taught the movement program as well as an explicit phonics program.
Of the other six schools, two taught only the movement program, two did the phonics program and two continued with regular pre-primary lessons.
The study found that teaching phonics and physical skills together was more beneficial than teaching either in isolation.
"The results that we got were astounding in terms of the improvement in not only beginning literacy but in movement skills as well," Dr Callcott said. "It was better than what we expected."
Dr Callcott said she found it scary that children were doing less exercise because so much emphasis was on academic subjects in the early years.
"So it was very important for me to be able to show that you can improve beginning literacy not just by doing more literacy," she said.
Applecross Primary School principal Barry France said combining the two programs had made such a big difference that he had rolled it out to all classes from kindergarten to Year 1.
Not only had students' reading and writing improved, but they also were less distracted in class and more dexterous. "So they've become better learners," he said.