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Institute for Rural Education and Development

Core 1: Preschool

Both gross motor skills and computational thinking impact early development and school readiness, yet concurrent development of the two is an overlooked but essential practice to adequately support early childhood development.

Improving Gross Motor Skills and Computational Thinking in Preschools

This core research area develops and implements a research-based and theoretically grounded curriculum, known as SKIP+CODE (Successful Kinesthetic Instruction for Preschoolers + Computation Opportunities for Developmental Equity.)

This curriculum supports the development of kindergarten readiness, executive function, an active lifestyle and the gross motor skills needed to pursue educational pathways toward STEM careers and healthy development.

Project Significance

  • Gross motor development is theorized to be the fundamental mechanism for a physically active life, an important area for work-life balance in STEM careers.

  • By targeting motor skills and computational thinking simultaneously, children can start kindergarten ready to learn academics and behavioral skills. 

Research Innovation 

Computational thinking and gross motor skills have previously been explored as separate developmental needs. Our research approaches both these developmental areas at the same time. 

This integration of gross motor skills and computational thinking may work together to enhance preschoolers’ motor competence, cognitive skills and social skills, ultimately leading to a greater likelihood of kindergarten readiness. 

Research Aims

  1. Develop 8 lesson plans (4 lesson plans in each development year) of SKIP+CODE curriculum that is developmentally appropriate and training materials for promoting implementation and fidelity

  2. Obtain initial evidence of the SKIP+CODE curriculum and training materials for use in rural preschool classrooms

  3. Obtain initial evidence of the outcomes of the SKIP+CODE curriculum for children

Purpose: To integrate and examine the synergistic effects of a robotics coding curriculum that develops computational thinking, a foundational STEM skill, with an efficacious motor development intervention among preschool youth

Hypothesis: This curriculum will positively impact executive function, kindergarten readiness, an active lifestyle and gross motor skill development in preschoolers

Goal: Support the development of the foundational skills needed to pursue educational pathways toward STEM careers

Vision: Preschoolers in rural schools that are ready for kindergarten and have the developmental skills in place to pursue STEM education in the future

SC Impact

While this research improves many aspects of the rural education system in South Carolinaa high percentage of the state's schoolscertain areas will benefit greatly from this focus area and the institute's work at large. 

STEM Career Exposure

Through this research, rural teachers receive the insight and lesson plan ideas they need to carry out STEM content and career development programs. With more exposure to STEM education and career paths, South Carolina's large population of rural students will develop the skills needed to pursue successful STEM careers.

Workforce Development

The institute's project for middle and high school students will involve developing health science content and immersive virtual reality activities. Introducing rural students to health science career opportunities through virtual reality experiences will help develop a strong STEM workforce in South Carolina.

Developmental Skill Building

According to the 2020 Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, fewer than 1 in 4 students in South Carolina are ready for kindergarten. The institute's program for preschool students will create an integrated curriculum that promotes the development of the gross motor skills required with coding and robotics.

Teacher Support

The institute's creation of holistic educational programs and procedures that work effectively in rural school settings alleviates some of the burden on school teachers. Supporting rural teachers will help improve educational outcomes for the many rural students in South Carolina.


Notable Awards, Outcomes and Practical Uses for this Research 

  • Bright Horizons at USC's Child Development Research Center  Partnership: A research to practice partnership to develop the curriculum
  • Early Learning Standard-Aligned Lesson Plans Feedback Form: Feedback form for all stakeholders to discuss developmental appropriateness, feasibility and utility of developed activities
  • SC School District Partnerships: Allow for early implementation and analysis of the curriculum

Institute for Rural Education and Development

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.