Parenting in the digital age is getting trickier as time passes. If our parents were worried about our television viewing habits, we now have to deal with screen dependency and gaming disorders, a result of our children's access to smartphones and gadgets. Experts have already found links between technology use and children's behavior, sleep, weight, and even their mental health — they all prove that too much of one thing is never good.
The next bad news about technology: Recent research shows that too much tablet time can derail a child's fine motor skills development and affect their handwriting skills.
A study published in the journal Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics investigated 5-year-old children who have no developmental delays. Forty of the kids have used a touchscreen tablet for more than 60 minutes per week for at least a month. They were given a 24-week home fine motor activity program that included tablet use. Another 40 children of the same age but did not have the frequency of tablet use as the first batch of kids received a 24-week program consisting of manual play activities.
After the program, researchers observed that using a touch screen tablet extensively might be disadvantageous for the fine motor development of preschool children. It means we could be seeing preschoolers who lack hand strength and dexterity to hold a pencil. And if they have difficulty controlling their grip using their fingers, it affects their ability to write.
"Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not be able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills," Sally Payne, the head pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation, National Health Services (NHS) Trust told The Guardian.
"Because of this, they’re not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil," Payne explained further.
When very young children spend too much time tapping and swiping on a tablet or smartphone, instead of building blocks or playing with pull toys, they miss the opportunity to use their hands. The solution is not to eliminate gadgets in your toddler or preschooler's life; after all, schools are already using tablets in lessons. It's now about the consistency of setting rules and limits and giving your little one equal or maybe even more time to play, sans screens.
A few activities to develop your child's fine motor skills early on is letting him play with clay, grip tweezers or droppers meant for young kids; pulling the zipper up and down; painting with cotton buds, or lacing up ribbons. (For more activities that help home pre-writing and writing skills, click here, here, and here).
If your preschooler is still having trouble getting a grip on his pencil, have him use shorter pencils or smaller crayons than the typical, which can help strengthen his hands, occupational therapist Sari Ockner told The Huffington Post.
Have your child write on vertical surfaces like an easel or chalkboard. Don't shy away from using "pencil grips" to help your child get used to the correct grip.
Practice writing sessions also help but make sure not to let the activity feel like a chore. Make it fun for your kids. There are lots of fun printable pre-writing and writing worksheets available online. (Check our favorites here!). After all, they learn more through play. Don't expect your child to have perfect and neat handwriting in an instant.