Children struggling to grip pencils due to excessive iPad use

There are countless benefits to using technology in the classroom. Digital devices are enhancing the learning experience, making it more interactive and inspiring modern ways of working. Teachers are utilising tech to automate tedious, time-consuming tasks, while children are developing digital skills that will become essential by the time they enter employment.

However, technology is not without its downfalls. A group of specialists have recently claimed that kids are struggling to hold pencils due to the excessive use of touchscreen devices like iPads and smartphones.

As the Telegraph reports, a number of paediatric doctors, orthopaedic therapists and handwriting experts have warned that although first-year school children can swipe a screen, they don’t possess the strength or agility to write properly.

The article outlines how digital screens are being used in place of traditional skills – such as cutting out, drawing and painting – which can improve fine motor skills and coordination.

Head paediatric occupational therapist for the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, Sally Payne, told the Guardian: “Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not [able] to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills.

“To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills.”

In a recent survey, 58% of children under two years’ old were discovered to have used a phone or tablet. Many nurseries have now installed interactive ‘smartboards,’ digital cameras and computers with touchscreen monitors to introduce children to tech from an early age.

A key goal in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is to ensure ‘children recognise that a range of technology is used in places such as homes and schools.’ Yet, the National Handwriting Association (NHA) asserts that the overuse of technology is damaging to children’s writing skills.

When children don’t get involved in activities such as playing with playdough, scribbling with crayons or holding and using scissors, the muscles needed for writing – including those in the shoulder, wrist and elbow – don’t develop.

Some teachers have claimed that children don’t understand how to receive a paintbrush or pencil, as they don’t have the dexterity to grasp the items. This problem has worsened significantly in the past ten years.

“The risk is that we make too many assumptions about why a child isn’t able to write at the expected age and don’t intervene when there is a technology-related cause,” paediatric occupational therapist and NHA vice chair, Mellissa Prunty, said.

This warning comes at a time when children are leading increasingly sedentary lifestyles. There’s no doubt that technology can be beneficial to children and their learning, but teachers and parents must set guidelines and strike that all-important balance – how do you think that can be achieved?





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5 thoughts on “Children struggling to grip pencils due to excessive iPad use

  1. What most people don’t realize is that children must also engage in gross-motor activities if their fine-motor control is to develop properly. Motor development occurs from the top to the bottom, from the inside (trunk) to the outside (extremities), and from the large to the small. So, children who haven’t experienced hanging from monkey bars and climbing trees will also have difficulty gripping a pencil. That’s part of nature’s plan.

  2. I have just inherited a five year old from a group setting, who cannot use a pencil. Children are not allowed to use a tablet or an ipad in my setting. Why do they need it? Save it for home, when busy mothers need children to be occupied, whilst they cook and clean. There are so many ways they can spend the day; jigsaws, playdough, books, games and so on. I also use a desk top computer for learning, which children can also have access to, when their co-ordination allow.
    However, in a group setting ie a pre-school or nursery it is very difficult to spend time supporting a few children to do a jigsaw or game – and often if left out pieces get lost and their life span is limited. Moreover, many staff in group settings are unable to use the resources to differentiate for the different children. (Some will be thinking ‘what does that mean?’ Well, it means you can play a game supporting a two year old to take turns in the game, whilst also practising initial letter sounds with a four year old in the same game. It really does work well!) Unfortunately, most group settings don’t allow children to learn in this way – they separate them rather then allowing the younger children to naturally absorb the learning the older children are taking on board, which is how my children learn – they jump into the learning that’s there – so easy. I have a job keeping up with some of my children.
    The ideal would probably be if children could attend a group setting a few sessions a week to use playdough, throwing a ball, climbing, running, jumping, cutting and so on – a variety of social, gross and fine motor skills and also attend a smaller setting such as a mine to concentrate on their individual learning and development, which is what my children do. My long term attendees go to school starting to read, and writing their name straight away. They also recognise numbers and often count to a hundred as well. They do need a bit of a flying start before they hit the ground running in our understaffed, target ridden schools!

    But what do I know I am only a childminder. (Albeit an Outstanding one!)

  3. As a supply Teaching Assistant I am saddened to learn that despite the need for teachers and assistant, these cuts continue. It sets a precident, it also sets my mind firmly on phasing out my own work as a part-time TA so I may re-enter the private sector, for-proft world of commerce. I already have two side cash jobs (AVON and eBay), however even that is not enough to raise enough income to pay for my teenage daughters needs and wants. We find there is no fat left to cut anymore so for people like me, I will have to leave the profession that I love.

  4. I find this article a little exaggerated. I think the majority of children manage to master both pencil grip and I pad. I teach from nursery upwards and have not seen any lack of motor skills in Reception / Year 1 children.

  5. Also in answer to the first comment. It is not part of nature’s plan for the human species to hold a pencil at all though we were designed to be very physically active.

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