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Feasibility Study of a Movement and Story-telling Intervention for Reception Children

Unit(s) of assessment: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience; Education

Research theme: Health and Wellbeing

School: School of Social Sciences


This project will test the feasbility of a movement and story-telling intervention for children in Reception.

Basic movement skills such as throwing, catching, and jumping are key factors in creating more active children, with health, social and academic benefits. Similarly, good language skills such as vocabulary and understanding narrative are an essential foundation to academic achievement.

However, motor and language development of 5-year-olds in the UK is poorer than children in other European countries, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. These difficulties have been exacerbated by Covid-19-related school closures.

Theory suggests that there could be benefits to motor and language development by combining movement and language activities in a single intervention.

The research team has developed a 12-week movement and story-telling intervention (MAST) suitable for delivery to 4-5-year-olds which aims to improve movement and language skills.

This project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Addressing the challenge

Building on a previous pilot (Duncan, Cunningham & Eyre, 2019), the research team will conduct a feasibility study of MAST for delivery by Reception teachers during whole-class PE lessons. Focusing on schools in disadvantaged areas will allow greater potential for narrowing the attainment gap early in a child’s education.

The first stage of the research will involve working with two or three Reception teachers to adapt the existing MAST lesson plans, resources, and teacher training to feedback into a training session using the adapted materials.

Subsequently, six schools will be selected, half will run the intervention and the other half will host a ‘business-as-usual’ control group. During this 12-week period the research team will provide ongoing support and conduct a feasibility evaluation.

This research aims to explore whether MAST has beneficial short-term effects on motor development and language skills in Reception children and the extent the intervention can be successfully adopted by schools.

Making a difference

The immediate tangible impact of this project will be to improve the language, literacy and motor skills of 90 disadvantaged children in England, and to create and deliver a set of teaching resources and related training materials to enable 3-6 Reception teachers to adopt and deliver materials that they have produced as part of and as a consequence of this project.

By addressing some of the learning needs of disadvantaged children a more distal impact will be our contribution to closing the attainment gap that is a key concern of organisations such as the Sutton Trust, and potentially improving the social mobility of the children longer-term as a consequence.

By providing Reception teachers with the training and tools they need to adopt an efficient and effective approach to raising children’s attainment with respect to both language and motor skills, the project has the potential to impact early years training and pedagogic practice.

This project forms the first step towards larger scale roll-out of MAST to benefit all children across the UK.

Related staff

This project is collaborative research between Nottingham Trent University and Coventry University.

The study is led by Dr Anna Cunningham, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at NTU. Anna is working with co-investigators Professor Clare Wood (NTU), and Professor Mike Duncan and Dr Emma Eyre (Coventry University) with Violeta Baikousi as Research Fellow.

Our interdisciplinary team brings together experts from two pillars of developmental science; language and literacy, and physical development, as well as a Research Fellow with specialisation in child psychology. Between us, we have more than 40 years of experience in schools-based research.

An advisory board of expert stakeholders in early years, language and motor development has been formed at the outset of the project, and forms a consultancy panel and steering group to support decision-making at key points throughout the project.