Kids’ fingers too weak to hold pencil, occupational therapist says

The world is pausing for a moment today to consider the ramifications of a report in The Guardian that children don’t have the muscle development to hold a pencil anymore.

What does this mean for…. I’ve got nothing. They can’t hold a pencil? Why do they need to?

“Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago,” Sally Payne, the head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, tells the Guardian. “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.

“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.”

Why can’t they hold a pencil? Because they’re using their fingers on iPads and smartphones, which, in case you haven’t heard, is now a more important communication function than a pencil.

His mother, Laura, blames herself: “In retrospect, I see that I gave Patrick technology to play with, to the virtual exclusion of the more traditional toys. When he got to school, they contacted me with their concerns: he was gripping his pencil like cavemen held sticks. He just couldn’t hold it in any other way and so couldn’t learn to write because he couldn’t move the pencil with any accuracy.

“The therapy sessions are helping a lot and I’m really strict now at home with his access to technology,” she said. “I think the school caught the problem early enough for no lasting damage to have been done.”

Mellissa Prunty, a paediatric occupational therapist who specialises in handwriting difficulties in children, is concerned that increasing numbers of children may be developing handwriting late because of an overuse of technology.

“One problem is that handwriting is very individual in how it develops in each child,” said Prunty, the vice-chair of the National Handwriting Association who runs a research clinic at Brunel University London investigating key skills in childhood, including handwriting.

“Without research, 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,” she said.

When’s the last time you used a pencil? When’s the last time you used a keyboard?

What’s the problem, again?

Related: A guy named Loop (honest) is working to save cursive (MPR News)