“Children coming into school are being given a pencil, but are increasingly not able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills,” Sally Payne, head pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, told The Guardian.
“It’s easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play, such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes,” Payne said. “Because of this, they’re not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil.”
A 2012 study, which videotaped 120 fourth-graders writing, revealed that four “mature” pencil grasps yielded the best results for legibility and speed: the dynamic tripod, dynamic quadrupod, lateral tripod and lateral quadrupod. Researchers also noted one “immature” grasp pattern and one alternating grasp pattern, which they said both negatively affected legibility and speed. The findings were published in American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
Another small study from 2012 explored the effects the handwriting experience can have on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Researchers observed children, aged 0 months to 4 years old, as they wrote, traced or typed letters and shapes. The individuals were then shown images of the letters and shapes while the scientists captured images of their brain from an MRI scan. The scientists discovered that handwriting was most effective for “recruiting components of the reading systems in the brain.”
“Handwriting is important for the early recruitment in letter processing of brain regions known to underlie successful reading,” they said.
However, British scholars agree with the doctors. They also believe kids aren’t developing these fundamentals early enough.
“One problem is that handwriting is very individual in how it develops in each child,” Mellissa Prunty, vice chair of the National Handwriting Association, said. “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.”
While they didn’t specify when they’d continue their investigations, they did note that curricula should incorporate handwriting targets. However, they believe excessive technology use may continue at home.
Want to learn more about the report? Read it at The Guardian.