Marcy Guddemi, PhD, MBA
Executive Director, Gesell Institute of Child Development
A new and disturbing phenomena is rising on the Kindergarten horizon and it may start in infancy. Kindergarten children are coming to school with a lack fine motor skills due to increased use of technology and less use of crayons, markers, chalk, paints, pencils, and scissors in their daily lives. One headline said “Tech-Savvy Kids Can’t Push a Pencil.” Another said, “Generation of iPad children who cannot hold a pencil: Playing with touch-screen devices means youngsters are struggling to learn basic motor skills.” When does it start? “Infants ‘unable to use toy building blocks’ due to iPad addiction.”
I was speaking to a parent group last month on Kindergarten Readiness. There were also representatives from the local public school present. I mentioned that fine motor skills are definitely part of the readiness skills for Kindergarten. The Kindergarten Coordinator and the Special Education Coordinator both commented on how Kindergarten children are coming to school with weak pencil grasp and cannot write the way they used to.
This trend was later corroborated when I received a phone call from a school that uses our Gesell Developmental Observation-Revised to assess their Kindergarten children. She commented that the low scores on fine motor skills are pulling down the children’s overall developmental age. She wanted to know if she could ignore the fine motor. I told her no we have to include that score because we are assessing the whole child, not just cognitive.
This is a huge problem for two reasons. One is that today’s Kindergarten requires so much more writing and “seat-work” than 10 years ago (not that this is good, it is just a fact). And two, fine motor skills don’t develop overnight. It is a gradual development that starts in infancy.
I-pads and other forms of technology are not going away but their use can be limited! The recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is absolutely no screen time for children under two years of age and less than an hour a day for preschoolers. Encourage parents to play with their children the “classic way” with crayons, markers, chalk, paints, pencils, and scissors; blocks, mud, water and sticks; dressing and undressing dolls and stuffed animals; play doh, finger painting, and finger games like Itsy Bitsy Spider. There are so many wonderful playful activities that children can do. Put the i-pads away and take the phones out of the strollers!