Preschoolers who fare better on fine and gross motor skill tests early in the school year are likely to have better social behavior and are better at paying attention, following directions and focusing on tasks later in the school year, a study found. The study published Wednesday in the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport found that preschoolers’ fine and gross motor skill development can predict their school readiness.

“Physical activity and motor skills are important for preparing for school and for life,” the study’s lead author Megan MacDonald from the Oregon State University, said in a statement. “Now that we know these things are linked to school readiness, we have more tools to share with parents and educators so they can help young children be ready for school.”

Studies have shown that good social behavior is essential for a smooth transition to school and children with good executive function skills are more likely to be successful in school. Executive functions, or self-regulation, include the ability to pay attention, follow directions and stay on task.

Researchers observed 92 children for the study aged between three and five years. The tests were conducted in fall and once again in spring. Development of fine motor skills like visual motor integration skills predicted the children’s scores on tasks that rate executive functions. Development of gross motor skills like object manipulation skills can predict their performance on tests that assess their social behavior. The tests for executive functions and social behavior were conducted in the spring.

Those who fared better in the fall tests also fared better in the spring tests, researchers found.

“The findings speak to the potential role, early on, of fine and gross motor skill development,” MacDonald said. “In kindergarten, children are playing games, socializing, lining up on the playground and more, which children learn through exposure and experience. For a variety of reasons, some children come into school not prepared for those things.”

Additional research is required to determine how motor skills are linked to school readiness. “If we know this, then that gives us some things we can advise parents to focus on if they want to help prepare their child for school,” MacDonald said.