Modern children are struggling to pick up the skill of holding a pencil and handwriting after spending the majority of their time using touchscreen.
An occupational therapist has said that touch screens stall children’s development around handwriting.
The preliminary NAPLAN results showed far lower scores that both the government and the public had anticipated. This has led to considerable scrutiny being levelled at all aspects of the process, particularly handwriting. Many teachers have come forward to voice their concerns about the NAPLAN tests being handwritten, claiming that it is adding to the stress of the children involved.
Paediatric occupational therapist Katrina Davies agrees. She says that modern children are often unable to hold a pencil correctly thanks to a lack of both strength and fine motor skills.
“With the pencil grip there should be a circle between your index finger and your thumb to allow free movement of your fingers when writing,” she said in speaking to ABC News.
This type of hold is known as the dynamic tripod grasp or the pencil grip, and is how occupational therapists believe kids should be holding their writing utensils. In this hold, the index and middle finger, along with the thumb, hold the pencil, while the ring finger and little finger are tucked away, leaving the pencil resting on the hand’s muscular area.
“Australian children are coming to school with a palmar grasp, which means the pencils touching the palms of their hands and they’re not using their fingers.”
Ms Davies likened the pencil grip being used by modern kids to how one might hold a knife or a dagger, saying that it was not the level that school-aged children should be at.
“It’s appropriate for a child that’s 18 months to hold a pencil like a knife but not for a child starting school,” she said. “By age five, children should be using their dynamic tripod grasp.”
Technology Behind The Development Stall
According to Ms Davies, there’s a visible contradiction in the education system to do with technology. There is a massive push to include more technology in schools, but children’s development doesn’t link up with the logic behind it. While technology is an important aspect of society, Ms Davies believes that the foundation skills, particularly social and fine motor skills, need to have more of a focus.
We all know that children spend more time on tablets of phones these days, and less time outside climbing trees and playing actively. There are certainly consequences of that, but you might not think handwriting is among them. The truth is, according to Ms Davies but also many other experts, that children need to play to learn, but their favourite toy shouldn’t be an iPad.
The more time children spend playing on screens, particularly touch screens, the more their development milestones are “pushed back”. The pencil grip is something that grows naturally over time, but screens are derailing the process as they hijack time that might have been otherwise spent playing in a hands-on way.
Index v Middle
What is most interesting about Ms Davies comments is her contention that both children and adults who spend a lot of time on screens often experience a change in their dominant finger. For most of us, particularly those raised in a pre-digital age, the index finger has always been dominant. But kids now tend to use their middle finger for swiping on touch screens, making it their dominant action finger. However, according to Davies:
“The muscles in our hand aren’t designed for that, as the index finger has the most muscle supply and is the one with the most accuracy.”
When kids change the way they do things from such a young age, they’re essentially changing the way their index finger responds in the future, creating new muscle memories, and potentially making handwriting so much harder.
Clearly we need to spend less time encouraging kids to learn on screen, and more time getting them to handwrite.