Touchscreen Use Interfering with Children's Pencil Skills: Study

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February 25, 2018

A new report out of the U.K. claims that children first entering school are finding it difficult to hold a pencil. The cause: too much use of a touchscreen.

In an age in which many, many adults have smartphone and tablets and spend a lot of time using them, the same is true of many children. Even very young children are being given tablets as presents; the market for tablet apps for children has skyrocketed in recent years. Many of those apps are designed to help children, and many educators tout the educational benefits of using such technology and its software in order to augment children's learning.

Child holding pencil

But touching a screen is not gripping a pencil or a pen. That skill, once thought to be second-nature, has been found lacking in a new generation of early schoolchildren. Doctors in the U.K. are encouraging parents to help their children develop hand strength and dexterity by engaging in muscle-buildling play, such as by using building blocks and by playing more outdoors.

Handwriting is still taught in schools, even as the use of handheld technology has increased in recent years. It is highly likely that even today's youngest children will need to employ handwriting skills for most of their lives, experts say.

The linking of increased technology use and decreased hand motor skills is not a new one. Australian education officials confronted similar difficulties in schoolchildren in 2016, although that was more in a large pushback against the requirement of an extended written test as part of that country's National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN); that study found that students in grades 3, 5, 7, and 9 struggled with the motor skills needed to take an extended written test.

As far as back as 2013, U.K. educators were sounding similar alarms, in the wake of widespread installation in schools of digital cameras and interactive smartboards.

Educators in American schools have sounded similar concerns in the past decade or so.

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