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The Assessment of Preschool Children's Motor Skills After Familiarization with Motor Tests

Tomac, Zvonimir1; Hraski, Zeljko2; Sporis, Goran2

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: July 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue 7 - p 1792–1798
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318237ea3b
Original Research

Tomac, Z, Hraski, Z, and Sporis, G. The assessment of preschool children's motor skills after familiarization with motor tests. J Strength Cond Res 26(7): 1792–1798, 2012—This research study was conducted to establish the influence of familiarization on the information component of movement in a motor task for the assessment of preschool children's motor skills. The sample included 50 children whose mean age was 5.9 years (71.5 months). The experimental group consisted of 27 children who were 5.9 years (71.5 months) old, and the control group consisted of 23 children who were 5.9 years (71.5 months) old. The examinees performed 2 motor tasks, standing long jump (SJ, explosive strength) and standing on 1 leg on a beam “flamingo test” (FT, balance). The experimental group underwent a period of familiarization with the motor task in 3 sessions with 5 trials every 3 days. The results indicate statistically significant differences in the final testing between both groups of examinees; the experimental group mean was 112.73 cm, and the control group mean was 100.62 in the SJ test (p = 0.00), and the experimental group mean was 27.10 seconds and the control group mean was 15.01 seconds in the FT (for balance) (p = 0.00). The results obtained in this research indicate that children significantly improved the results in the motor test of strength and balance, being influenced by familiarization. It was confirmed that it was necessary for preschool children to be familiar with the test and it is not justified to use testing and assessment protocols and standards for adults. Physical educators and coaches, when testing preschool children, should introduce children to tests to obtain the best result.

1Faculty for Teacher Education, Department for Social Science, University of Osijek, Osijek, Croatia

2Faculty of Kinesiology, Department for Applied Kinesiology, University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia

Address correspondence to Goran Sporis,

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It is agreed that motor development should have the role of a control parameter in the entire development of a child (6,27); therefore, the studies on children's development refer to assessing skills in the early stages of development (10,18) with the aim of intervening in the sense of learning new movement structures, prevention, and skill development. To assess all areas of children's development, it is necessary to have assessment protocols for collecting and evaluating real indicators of a child's motor status. For this reason, Burton and Miller (5) have stated 5 main reasons for assessment: identification and categorization, planning medical treatments or activities, assessing changes over time, giving information to the person who exercises, and predicting progress.

Motor skill development and acquisition influence the entire growth and development (3,8). Often research is conducted in the field of fine and gross motor skills of preschool children's motor skills to establish factor structure, gender differences (1,18), to discover clumsiness (12), or to predict development (19). Because of the complexity of children's motor skills, which at their age are still in a very intensive stage of development, it is very hard to find studies in which these motor dimensions are completely isolated as in the adult population, and researchers using the same protocols encounter some problems and suggest new methods and standards and tests that could better assess a child's motor status. Bala (1) researched on the possibility of the direct usage of adult tests for testing children. He stated that the second and third results have the highest values except in endurance tests and concluded that children learn how to perform an exercise in the first attempt. The author suggested necessary modifications of test and assessment methods and recommended measuring all tests with more items because children have to create a situation to understand exercises and prepare for assessment. The author concluded that children should be given appropriate instructions, their motivation should be increased, and that they should be given test trials for each test. Considering problems that arise during assessment and that they become more noticeable when assessing children, it is necessary to determine the influence of familiarization on the entire result of a single test and reliability of test for motor skill assessment. A positive influence of familiarization on motor test results and stability was determined by Glaister et al. (9), whereas Moir et al. (15,16) concluded that to achieve a high level of reliability in the strength and speed test, familiarization is not necessary. With that aim, studies were conducted on the influence of familiarization, motor learning process, and the influence of motor knowledge on the efficacy of a performance of a single motor movement. Hence, Baumgartner (4) states that “if a criterion value in an initial assessment was obtained before stability of an individual's performance, then the differences between groups in the final assessment can be attributed to faster learning of test performance rather than to experimental treatment.” The author also observed a significant improvement of results in standing long jump (SJ) tests with students when measured 3 days in a row with 3 attempts per day. Thomas and Nelson (21) claim that a possible cause of errors in measuring can be explained by individual differences in familiarization with tests and performance situation. Also, Tsigilis and Theodosiou (22) attempted to research the stability of results in balance tests. Other researchers (11) tried to determine which information given to examinees during demonstration had an impact on task performance. Sullivan et al. (20) studied the influence of various frequencies of feedback during practice on the acquisition and sustainability of motor skills with children when compared with that in adults. The authors established that children use feedback differently than adults do, which makes the generalization of motor learning processes for children and adults questionable. This can be explained by the fact that a child's cognitive processing abilities are not the same as an adult's. Children require more repetition with feedback to create a more precise and stable inner image of motor skills. Vasta et al. (24) stated that motor skills are developed through 3 stages: In the first stage, a child tries to perform a group of movements, but it lacks preparatory and final performance components; in the second stage, a child has more control over movements, but it cannot join them into 1 unit; in the third stage, some movement segments become smooth and are performed in a synthetic form.

For sure, each of these stages can be applied when interpreting results that a child achieves in tests for motor skill assessment. If we could definitely determine how much each stage contributed to the achievement of the final test result, then we could define the best conditions for conducting motor skill tests with children, which is essential for knowing the motor status of children and being familiar with each individual's current motor status. The question is whether one can be familiar with such a status if certain assessment protocols have not been set up. Another issue to consider is when the test represents the real level of skills. If each test result consists of a measuring object and information component, then it is necessary to establish whether the test result also increases under the influence of familiarization and the increase of information movement component. Testing motor skills and monitoring their development is complex, especially when testing children's abilities. It requires a high level of precision, reliability, and objectivity. Therefore, the main aim of this paper is to determine the need for familiarization with motor tests and its role in the information component of movement which contributes to result improvement and stabilization in the observed motor tests.

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Experimental Approach to the Problem

The study was conducted in May 2010 at the end of the regular preschool year. The experimental program consisted of assessing the experimental and control group's motor abilities in initial and final testing and in transit testing only for the experimental group, which at that time performed a task with defined settings. After the initial testing, the experimental group started with the experimental treatment, which lasted 3 weeks and consisted of giving feedback, which was basically information on the achieved result (“you did better than last time,” “swing your arms before you jump”) and the information on the quality of movement techniques to boost motor learning and formation of good motor program that could have an impact on the improvement of results in selected motor tasks. The examinees performed tasks every 3 days in sessions of 5 repetitions, and for each repetition, they were given feedback on the quality of movement and the scores that achieved the highest result. Because children at this age grow quickly (14) and develop fast, the whole treatment lasted only for 3 weeks. This prevented the influence of biological maturity on the task results. The authors organized sessions every 3 days to avoid very high intensity and direct influence on the development of assessment object (motor abilities) and trying to avoid forgetting, that is, a certain amount of information should be memorized from the previously acquired motor program in the first session to which they can add information from the second and third sessions. After 4 repetitions, during the fifth performance, the achieved score was recorded. So, the experimental treatment was monitored in 3 sessions, and every examinee performed 15 repetitions of each task.

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The research was conducted on a sample of 60 children in kindergarten in Osijek, Croatia. At the beginning, 30 children were in the experimental group, and 30 in the control group. The research was completed on a sample of 50 children who underwent the whole assessment. At the end of the research, the data were collected from 50 children (32 boys and 18 girls) whose mean age was 5.9 years (71.5 months), mean height 119.8 cm (SD = 6.00, min = 107 cm, max = 135 cm); their mean weight was 23.6 kg (SD = 4.93, min = 17.51 kg, max = 37.8 kg). The experimental group consisted of 27 children whose mean age was 5.9 years (71.51 months) (SD = 3.58, min = 65 months, max = 79 months), mean height 119.81 cm (SD = 6.03, min = 109 cm, max = 135 cm), and mean weight 23.29 kg (SD = 5.48 kg, min = 17.6 kg, max = 37.8). The control group consisted of 23 children, and their mean age was 71.52 months (SD = 4.34, min = 63 months, max = 78 months), mean height was 119.95 cm (SD = 6.10, min = 107 cm, max = 133 cm), and mean weight was 22.71 kg (SD = 4.23, min = 17.51 kg, max = 34 kg). Both groups had a regular curriculum and did not have any previous experience in performing motor movement. All of the subjects and their parents/guardians provided informed consent before participating in the research protocol, which was also approved by the ethical committee of the Faculty of Kinesiology in Zagreb.

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The research assessed both groups' motor skills representing balance and explosive strength. (a) the SJ test was for explosive strength assessment; (b) flamingo test (FT) involved standing on a beam on one leg, eyes open and was a test for balance assessment.

In addition to assessing both groups' motor skills, 2 anthropometric measures were also considered: (a) body height and (b) body weight.

To control the level of motivation and the influence of environment, the examinees performed tasks in groups of 3 in separate rooms. The examinees performed tasks one after the other with a break that was long enough to have a rest after each task.

For the experimental program, 2 motor tasks were selected hypothetically covering different motor abilities: SJ (explosive strength) (17,28) and FT (balance) (28).

Because this is a pilot study, the authors chose these 2 tests, which include 2 hypothetically completely different skills. The “SJ” test consists of a complex motor skill with high movement amplitude, whereas the FT evaluates static balance standing on one leg.

In addition to the abovementioned instructions, the examinees were given the information on the previous score to motivate them to achieve their maximum.

During the experimental program, the control group did not have any physical activities; except for usual everyday kindergarten activities, they also did not have any contact with the experimental group.

After 3 sessions that were cyclically repeated every 3 days for each examinee, the experimental and control groups had the final testing.

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Statistical Analyses

The results were statistically processed by using Statistica 8.0 software, and the main descriptive parameters were calculated (arithmetic mean and SD); the normality of data distribution was tested by using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test. The reliability was calculated by Cronbach α, and homogeneity by the mean correlation between items average items correlation (AVR). The analysis difference between groups was tested by analysis of variance (ANOVA), and the effect size was calculated. For testing the differences between each treatment sessions (transitive testing), the T-test was used for the experimental group for dependent samples. All the methods were used with the significance level of p = 0.05.

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The Kolmogorov-Smirnov test indicated that the normal distribution of both variables, the SJ test in the initial testing had good metric characteristics (Cronbach α = 0.97, AVR = 0.92); the FT test had a low reliability and a very low level of intercorrelation between items (Cronbach α = 0.61, AVR = 0.35) (Table 1).

Table 1

Table 1

The recorded differences in the initial test between the control and experimental groups are not significant. In the SJ test, F = 1.77 and p = 0.19, and in the FT test, F = 0.16 and p = 0.69.

In the final test, which was carried out in the same way as the initial test, statistically significant differences were recorded. In the SJ test, F = 6.32 and p = 0.02*, and in the FT test, F = 9.26 and p = 0.00* (Table 2).

Table 2

Table 2

The results indicate that the experimental group had significantly better results than did the control group in the final test. When comparing the results with those of the initial test, it can be observed that both the experimental and control groups had improved results. Still, it is obvious that the experimental group had a greater improvement. Because of the treatment which provided information on the performance quality and score, the children from the experimental group considerably improved their results in the SJ test for 12.11 cm (12.03%) and in the FT test for 19.23 seconds (244.34%), whereas the children from the control group improved their result for 7.8 cm in the SJ test and 6.45 seconds in the FT test. The ANOVA provided statistically significant differences between the control and experimental groups, in the SJ test (100.35/113.73 cm) and in the FT test (15.01/27.10 seconds). In addition to qualitative changes of the results, in the final assessment also there occurred changes in the reliability and homogeneity of tests; in the FT test, Cronbach α = 0.94 and AVR = 0.84, whereas in the SJ test, the metric characteristics did not change (Cronbach α = 0.96, AVR = 0.89).

The change in the FT test reliability indicates a large amount of error in measuring only in one testing, in which an insufficient information component causes a lower result of measuring (balance). Therefore, it is not appropriate to use results unless children have information about what to do.

The results of the T-test for dependent samples indicate that the scores for the SJ and for the balance motor task are increased during the treatment, that is, during motor knowledge acquisition. However, it is obvious that the results between the first and second transit assessments in the SJ test do not significantly differ, but these differences become more important after the third treatment (15 repetitions), whereas in the FT test, the differences had already become significant after the first treatment. The decrease in the scores in the final test is also evident. Although these differences are not statistically significant (100.62/112.73 cm in the SJ test and 7.87/27.10 seconds in the FT test), it is clear that the biggest differences were recorded between the initial test and the third treatment session (100.62/117.12 cm in the SJ test and 7.87/30.42 seconds in the FT test). There is also a trend of increase in the score in the balance task during the treatment with the experimental group and increase in the score for the control group (Figures 1 and 2). The increase in the experimental group's score is linear during treatment up to the final test when the scores rapidly decreased.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

The recorded scores indicate statistically significant differences in the SJ test in factor Group (F = 4.18; p = 0.04, observed power = 0.52) and in Factor test (F = 18.11; p = 0.00, observed power = 0.99). Furthermore, statistically significant differences were observed in the FT test on both factors, Group (F = 5.39; p = 0.02, observed power = 0.62) and Test (F = 50.27; p = 0.00, observed power = 0.99).

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Research results indicate that the preparation (familiarization) for the motor test performance and motor learning significantly improves test scores, whereas feedback during performance and familiarization with a performance situation has a vital role. Because the experimental protocol had a considerable amount of feedback and a low level of energy intensity that could not ensure transformation power of the measuring object (motor skills), we can conclude that motor knowledge, that is, the information component of movement played a significant role in improving the results, especially because as a result of the short periods of treatment the impact of biological growth and development in the realization of motor tasks was prevented.

It has been agreed (1,20) that when performing motor tasks and acquiring new motor movements, it is not appropriate to apply adult protocols for children because children process information differently and in this way individually form motor programs that enable them to achieve maximum motor efficacy while performing different motor tasks. Therefore, it is essential to provide them with preparation and additional instructions.

The experimental group made progress in the SJ test (100.62/112.73 cm [12.03%] and 7.87/27.10 seconds [244.34%]) in the FT test. When analyzing the differences, we obtained the results, which indicated that 2 groups, who in the initial test were homogeneous in the observed motor area, significantly differed in the final test (experimental group 100.62 cm/92.55 control group in the SJ test and 7.87 seconds for experimental group, compared with 8.56 seconds for the control group in the FT test). It was also evident that the participants in the experimental group significantly improved their scores after the experimental treatment. The same results were obtained in an other study (22); in this research, both the groups improved the results, but the experimental group exhibited a more significant improvement. The efficacy of complex motor movement performance and the quickness of new motor structure acquisition depend on a general factor for movement structure, which for children represents coordination (7). Hence, movement performance is improved only by practicing under the maximum level of performance ability, so only good quality and precise repetition improve a motor program.

In addition to recording the differences between the groups and during the treatment, the importance of feedback and the influence of motivation on test results, we also established the differences between the third treatment session (measuring after 15 repetitions) and the final test in which all the final values were lower than those in the treatment. The results obtained indicate that the biggest difference was recorded between the initial test and the third treatment session (100.62/117.12 cm in the SJ test and 7.87/30.42 seconds in the FT test; Table 3). This can be explained by the fact that during the treatment the children performed exercises in groups of 3 in separate rooms, and at the same time, we paid attention to the performance quality and motivation, whereas in the final assessment, the tests were conducted with all the children at the same time in the same room in a traditional way without information about movement between 3 measurement items. A considerable influence of motivation was established (23), which determined that children who were exposed to a highly motivating atmosphere achieved statistically more significant results when performing locomotor elements. They also had better motor competences after the treatment, although it was established that both the groups showed a significant improvement. Therefore, we can conclude that children have poorer results when they are deprived of feedback and when the environment influences their concentration during testing.

Table 3

Table 3

These results correspond to the research, which suggested that even 5 preparatory sessions are not enough for result stability (22) emphasizing that children should be given appropriate instructions, their motivation boosted, and that they should be given test trials for each assessment (1). Kottke (13) also concluded that dozens of trials produce testing and the awareness of coordination unit performance, but they result in a slowdown.

Because the experimental program draft for this research was created to prevent the influence on the assessment object (motor skill), familiarization with the performance situation and motor learning played the main role in the improvement of motor task performances. Similarly, some studies state that in the process of motor learning internal feedback involves kinesthetic, visual, skin, vestibular, and auditory signals, whereas external feedback comes from the surroundings and is added to the internal feedback. Internal feedback motivates individuals' performance, whereas external feedback gives information about errors (25). Also, the inner sensory feedback from one action is not necessary only for the assessment of this action, but it is also the initiator of the action that follows (26). These results confirm the theory suggesting that children use feedback differently than adults do (20). When becoming familiar with a task performance, children form a rough motor program, which is added to the previous motor knowledge. Therefore, if during exercising, children are provided with a suitable amount of information about the performance quality, they will be able to achieve their maximum efficacy. One can say that under the influence of such a treatment, some quality changes occurred in the children's motor field. We can also establish that children do not have completely differentiated motor skills as adults do, so when performing various, especially more complex motor tasks, children use multiple motor structures. Kottke (13) emphasized that the most important aspect of exercising is the formation of inhibition control, which should inhibit musculature that does not participate in a movement.

This research was limited by a small number of examinees, so further research should include more participants. Nevertheless, the results are indicative and reveal a significant influence of familiarization on the results and their stability during the assessment of children's motor functioning.

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Practical Applications

The results obtained in this research indicate that under the influence of familiarization and by acquiring motor knowledge, children significantly improved their scores in motor tests of strength and balance. This approach to motor skill testing with preschool children established that when testing children, it is not suitable to use protocols and standards for testing adults. An important factor in the improvement of performance quality is the understanding of a task; therefore, a movement can be learned only if performance and results are recognized as successful. Physical educators and coaches, when testing preschool children, should introduce children to tests in at least 3 sessions to obtain the best result. To avoid errors in motor status assessment, a child should be prepared for motor task performance and for the situation in which the task is performed. A child should have enough information about the task and results so that he or she can become familiar with the test and in that way realize its maximum motor potential.

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    measurement motor abilities; multiple trials; preschool children

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