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Open Access Research article

Determinants of variability in motor performance in middle childhood: a cross-sectional study of balance and motor co-ordination skills

Patricia K Kitsao-Wekulo124*, Penny A Holding123, Hudson Gerry Taylor3, Jane D Kvalsvig4 and Kevin J Connolly5

  • * Corresponding author: Patricia K Kitsao-Wekulo

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 KEMRI/Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Centre for Geographic Medicine Research –Coast, Kilifi, Kenya

2 International Centre for Behavioural Studies, Nairobi, Kenya

3 Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA

4 University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

5 Department of Psychology, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK

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BMC Psychology 2013, 1:29  doi:10.1186/2050-7283-1-29

Published: 17 December 2013



Physical activity is a key component of exploration and development. Poor motor proficiency, by limiting participation in physical and social activities, can therefore contribute to poor psychological and social development. The current study examined the correlates of motor performance in a setting where no locally validated measures of motor skills previously existed. The development of an appropriate assessment schedule is important to avoid the potential misclassification of children’s motor performance.


A cross-sectional study was conducted among a predominantly rural population. Boys (N = 148) and girls (N = 160) aged between 8 and 11 years were randomly selected from five schools within Kilifi District in Kenya. Four tests of static and dynamic balance and four tests of motor coordination and manual dexterity were developed through a 4-step systematic adaptation procedure. Independent samples t-tests, correlational, univariate and regression analyses were applied to examine associations between background variables and motor scores.


The battery of tests demonstrated acceptable reliability and validity. Variability in motor performance was significantly associated with a number of background characteristics measured at the child, (gender, nutritional status and school exposure) household (household resources) and neighbourhood levels (area of residence). The strongest effect sizes were related to nutritional status and school exposure.


The current study provides preliminary evidence of motor performance from a typically developing rural population within an age range that has not been previously studied. As well as being culturally appropriate, the developed tests were reliable, valid and sensitive to biological and environmental correlates. Further, the use of composite scores seems to strengthen the magnitude of differences seen among groups.

Motor performance; Resource-constrained setting; Rural; School-age; Variability