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

Abby G. Carlson

Advisor: Timothy W Curby, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Adam Winsler, Ellen Rowe

David J. King Hall, #1029
April 22, 2013, 05:00 PM to 02:00 PM


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 a large-scale, longitudinal dataset. Fine motor skills and executive function measured in the Fall of kindergarten 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. 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, and socioeconomic status. 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. Exploratory analyses suggested that there was no an interaction between fine motor skills and executive function, suggesting that the associations of these two skills with achievement are not dependent on one another. Previous studies linking these skills to achievement have focused on achievement in elementary school, so the present study provided new information about these associations further into children’s academic careers. Results are discussed in terms of possible implications for educational practices.