Two recent events I personally encountered have led to this blog post.
First, I was shocked to read that there are now specific occupational therapy programs to help remediate young children’s poor fine motor skills because of their technology addiction. These programs have been designed to develop hand strength to allow today’s digital learners to be able to write for longer periods of time to complete hand-written tests, such as the NAPLAN test (a standardised pencil-and-paper test for non-Australian readers). This tells me that we have far too many children spending excessive amounts of time with screens!
Second, during a recent school visit, I realised that there is a common denominator that I hear in staffroom chat (no, it is not counting down to school holidays and no, it is not teachers complaining about disobedient children). I frequently hear teachers bemoan the fact that today’s children lack fine motor skills. And technology is usually blamed for the demise in these skills.
To some extent, I agree. Excessive technology use can certainly have a detrimental effect on children’s fine motor skills. Why? Technology use has a displacement effect – when children are using gadgets they are NOT engaged in other activities, which may have developed their fine motor skills. However, appropriate amounts of technology are unlikely to cause the demise in these skills.
There is no denying that children today are not spending the same amount of time playing with Lego, using scissors, making objects with playdough, as they previous generations did. This would certainly impact their fine motor skill development. Instead, today’s digital children use a greater number of digital devices, at earlier ages and for significant amounts of time (children aged 0-8 years spend an average of just over 3 hours with media every day). This is certainly having a displacement effect on their fine motor skills.
Should We Ban Technology and Gadgets?
So should we ban technology and hope that this has a corresponding effect on children’s fine motor skills? No, this is not a realistic solution. These technologies are here to stay and we need to teach children how to use them in appropriate ways. Banning them will not work.
Instead, I propose that we can do something radical. I suggest that we can actually leverage digital technologies and use them in ways that can actually enhance children’s fine motor skills. Yes, crazy I know.
Touch devices can provide unique opportunities to develop children’s fine motor skills. I am NOT proposing that touch devices REPLACE hands-on experiences. Digital children STILL NEED to touch and explore real life objects. They still need to play with REAL Lego, playdough, use scissors and manipulate small objects (that are painful for parents to tread on). It is all about balance.
5 Apps to Improve Fine Motor Skills
Below are 5 apps that I suggest that can be used to develop young children’s fine motor skills:
1. Bugs and Buttons
With more than 18 games for children aged 3-5 years, this app is both educational and entertaining. Children are required to pinch, swipe and drag objects on the screen to count, classify and sort various bugs.
2. Little Digits
This app develops basic number concepts for children aged 3-6 years. Children are required to place a certain number of fingers on the screen simultaneously, to represent given numbers or answers to algorithms. This is a great app to play with a sibling or parent and not only develops maths concepts but also some fine motor skills at the same time.
3. Dexteria – Fine Motor Skill Development
This app is highly regarded amongst occupational therapists and teachers to develop fine motor skills using a touch device. This app develops finger dexterity, hand strength and finger control: all essential fine motor skills. It is recommended that this app be used for short periods of time. A feature of this app is that teachers and parents can track student performance.
4. Dexteria Jr.
Fine Motor Skill Development for Toddlers & Preschoolers – This app is also designed to develop young children’s handwriting skills by explicitly teaching pre-writing skills such as left-to-right orientation, pincer grip (what you need to hold a real pencil). Suitable for children aged 2-6 years.
5. Chalk Walk
This app, designed by an experienced Kindergarten teacher, is suitable for children aged 3-6 years. It develops essential pre-writing skills such as hand positioning, tracing and left to write orientation. A unique benefit of this app is that children can watch video re-plays of their movements.
Dr Kristy Goodwin is the Director of Every Chance to Learn, an Honorary Associate at Macquarie University and a Mum! Her practical, evidence based approach is refreshing in this new field often characterised by media hype and conflicting research. Find more information and helpful resources for parents from Dr Kristy Goodwin at Every Chance to Learn.