The relative age effect on fundamental movement skills in Chinese children aged 3–5 years

Kai Li, Sitong Chen, Jiani Ma, Clarice Martins, Michael Duncan, Xinxin Sheng, Shijie Liu, Yujun Cai

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Background: The cut-off date in the education system causes a relative age difference, with developmental advantages for children who are born on the “early side” of the cut-off date and disadvantages for those born later, which is known as the relative age effect (RAE). Very few studies have examined whether there is a RAE on the development of fundamental movement skills (FMSs) in preschool children, and no studies have been conducted in China. The purpose of this study is to identify whether a RAE exists on FMS in Chinese preschool children, comparing RAEs according to gender and age. Methods: From a total of 378 invited preschool children regularly registered at one Chinese kindergarten, a total of 288 healthy and typically developing preschoolers (4.33 ± 0.84 years-old; 56.6% boys) were included in this study. All children were required to take part in anthropometry and FMS assessments. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was applied to examine the difference in each of the FMS items across quarter categories, year and gender groups, controlling for body mass index (BMI). Results: For the overall sample, the data show the significant main effects on the quarter of birth factor in locomotor skills (LC; F (3, 265) = 2.811, p = 0.04, ηp2 = 0.031), object control skills (OB; F (3, 265) = 6.319, p = 0.04, ηp2 = 0.031), and total test score (TTS; F (3, 265) = 5.988, p = 0.001, ηp2 = 0.063). There were also significant differences in the age effect on all the domains of FMS (FLC (2, 265) = 100.654, p < 0.001, ηp2 = 0.432; FOB (2, 265) = 108.430, p < 0.001, ηp2 = 0.450; FTTS (2, 265) = 147.234, p < 0.001, ηp2 = 0.526) but a gender effect only in LC (F (1, 265) = 20.858; p < 0.001; ηp2 = 0.073). For gender and quarter of birth groups, RAEs in LC only exists in girls. Moreover, regarding age and quarter of birth factors, RAEs are only found at younger ages. Conclusions: This study suggests the existence of RAEs in the FMS of Chinese preschool children. Teachers need to be aware of the effect of RAEs on the FMS when approaching development, evaluation, and teaching approaches in preschools.
Original languageEnglish
Article number150
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Pediatrics
Issue number1
Early online date31 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

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This study is supported by grants from the Shanghai Science and Technology Planning Project (No.21010503700) and Shanghai Key Laboratory of Human Performance (Shanghai University of Sport, No.11DZ2261100).


  • Motor development
  • Preschool children
  • FMS
  • RAE


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