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Technology’s Impact on Children’s Writing Skills

March 21, 2018

Technology can be and is a wonderful thing. There are so many different options out there; some for play, some for work, some for entertainment. Technology by design is engaging and leaves the user wanting more. Kids and adults alike engage in tablet and phone use for many different reasons, but are there negative effects of too much time spent engaging with these devices?

As kids become school aged, they are expected to have the skills in place to hold and use a pencil, along with many other functional skills. As simple as the task of writing may appear, there are many foundational skills that are needed to complete this task successfully. The ability to sit at a desk and write requires a child to use core strength to maintain his or her position in the chair, shoulder stability to stabilize their arm, wrist mobility to maneuver the pencil, and finger dexterity to move the pencil accurately. There are also visual skills needed in order to attend to the teacher and/or board. They need to see what they are supposed to be doing, and then bring their eyes back to their paper in order to complete the desired task. The consequence and fear of interacting with tablets and other devices so young is that these foundational skills are not being developed prior to attending school.

As a child engages with a tablet, they are most likely sitting with their back supported, lounged on a couch, laying on the floor, or in another supported position. The device is typically supported on a lap or held very close to the child’s face. There are not many opportunities to develop shoulder stability, wrist mobility, or visual flexibility. When using a finger or thumb to interact with the device, children are not developing the whole hand dexterity needed to utilize a pencil successfully.

Not only are children engaged less with the task of writing and/or drawing, they are engaged less in whole body gross motor activities that are needed to develop core strength required for these tasks. As children spend more time indoors in sedentary activities (such as tablet use), they have less time to engage in outdoor play and heavy work that assists in developing foundational skills for higher level activities (such as writing, drawing, and attention to task).

So what can we do about it?

The first step is to limit screen time, which is easier said than done. In order to bridge the gap between tablet games and outdoor play, it could be helpful to “play” their favorite tablet game in real life. As kids get more comfortable with engaging in gross motor play successfully, the more they will want to engage in these types of activities. In addition to helping our children engage in gross motor play, it is also beneficial to change up the task of writing itself. Instead of doing worksheets at the table all the time, have them change position. If we’re focused on the writing task, then it is okay if they lay on the ground to start. Put the task on a vertical surface, such as a wall, to help in engagement of the child’s whole body. A slant board or tilt to the paper (such as putting it on a binder) can also help to increase legibility of writing. Most importantly, we want to make sure that the tasks we are asking of our children are fun and engaging so that they don’t start resisting the tasks.

Being intentional in our engagement and activity suggestions for our kids, we can balance the use of technology and other activities to promote skills for success in our children.

Written by Danielle Boog, MS, OTR/L
Licensed Occupational Therapist, BRAINS

Danielle Boog’s comments are in response to a public health article written by Allan Adamson, Children Struggle To Hold Pencils Due To Excessive Use Of iPads, published on on February 26, 2018. Please click here to read the full article.

Danielle Boog, MS, OTR/L is a fully licensed occupational therapist with 9 years of experience; 5 in pediatric treatment. She has 4 kids of her own. Her experience includes assisting children of all ages and abilities develop functional skills needed to assist them in daily life and in multiple environments such as school, home, and play. She enjoys engaging parents fully in their child’s treatment process and provides support for mothers in the form of groups and professional presentations. For more ideas and activities to work on these skills with your children, please visit our Pinterest page, follow Brains0131.

To schedule an appointment with Danielle Boog, MS, OTR/L, please call to speak with a BRAINS support staff at (616 ) 365-8920.