How technology use is impacting children’s motor skills
Before reading below, please note that my daughter is watching TV as I type this blog article.
While I can see the risks of technology. I do also see the many benefits to technology use for children, and for parents.
In this blog article you will learn how technology use for children may be hindering their learning and development. In my view, technology use refers to children spending hours watching TV, playing video games, using their parent's smart phone, or interacting with a smart device.
My concerns about technology use and screen time include:
reducing children's head movement - impairing balance and hand-eye coordination
reducing children's physical activity - increasing children's risk of long-term health conditions and poor health
impairing children's gross motor skill development
hindering children's fine motor skill development
If you work in the early learning sector, kindergartens, or primary schools you have probably already noticed the decline in children's motor skill development over the past 5 years, and in my opinion, technology has a lot to do with this epidemic where children are more uncoordinated, poorly balanced, and clumsier than ever before.
How technology is hindering children's spatial awareness skills
Spatial awareness skills include understanding where our body parts are on our own body as well as understanding where our own body parts are in relation to other objects such as furniture, people, toys, etc.
Spatial awareness skills help us to avoid bumping in to tables or friends in a classroom. Spatial awareness also helps us to be able to catch and throw a ball, place lego blocks together, do up buttons and drink bottles, and write sentences with legible spacing in between each word.
As adults we take these spatial awareness skills for granted because we mostly played basketball, cricket, and dancing out in our local street with our neighbours. Our bodies are able to perform basic ball skills, balance activities, and fine motor skills because as children we had ample opportunity to run, jump, balance, and play. However, some children are spending 6 to 8 hours in front of a screen per day.
Over the past 5 years I have observed more children having difficulty with spatial awareness and the concept of personal space, as well as poor hand-eye coordination skills for throwing and catching a ball and handwriting.
I am sure there are many reasons for children’s motor development lacking. However, the one factor that I put a lot of emphasis on is children’s technology use including phones, tablets, video games, and computers.
Screen time and fine motor skill development
Since the advancement of technology, some children’s fine motor skills have declined. Some children start school with a 2 year old pencil grip (grasping the pencil like a hammer). I also see some children who find it difficult to undo zips, do up their own buttons, put on their shoes, and write their name.
Unfortunately, many children are lacking the opportunity to draw shapes, tear paper, peel of stickers, and participate in arts and crafts like we used to when I was a child.
Despite the benefits of technology, it is still vital that children consistently practice their fine motor skills every day to be adequately prepared for school and life.
How to limit children's technology use?
When children spend hours on computer games, they are lacking the time and opportunity spent outdoors playing basketball and riding their bike around obstacles. During computer games children's thumbs move but their head and body remain inactive. Their body isn’t practicing the necessary skills of throwing and catching, dodging the family pet in the backyard, or walking across various terrains such as hills, curbs, and playgrounds.
As a result of physical inactivity, we are seeing some young children who are struggling with the concept of personal space, as well as finding it difficult to sit still and focus during mat time, hold a pencil correctly, and are often bumping in to their peers outdoors at recess and lunch time.
So how do we reduce screen time?
1 – Go back to the basics with a ping pong ball and a washing basket
This activity is great for the whole family as we aim ping pong balls in to a washing basket from various distances. My two year old’s favourite part of this activity is tipping the balls back out of the washing basket. My six year old son’s favourite part is throwing ping pong balls at dad. The laughter that this activity creates in our home is electric and contagious.
2 – Whip out the colouring pages or encourage free drawing by sitting down with a pencil in hand
The key to success with colouring at our house is my involvement in the activity as well because children are constantly modelling how we behave as adults. When I sit down at the table with my cuppa in one hand and my pencil in the other hand, my kids are quick to join me at the table to also colour in or draw.
Colouring in provides the child’s hands with fine motor skill practice needed for letter formation, handwriting, and doing up buttons.
Colouring can happen any time, anywhere with just a selection of four or five pencils and a piece of paper. As I type this blog post in a beautiful café called @colourfields I can see a young girl aged seven or eight colouring in with her grandmother and a family with a 2 year old and 3 to 4 year old sitting together chatting and laughing with colouring sheets and pencils.
While technology is amazing for the whole family, let’s not forget about the many benefits that come from the basics of paper and pencil.
3 – Explore local parks and gardens regardless of the weather
I am very fortunate to be surrounded by incredible parks and gardens where I live and work. Even on the coldest days, I rug up all three kids with hoods, scarves, and snow boots, and off we go exploring flowers, trees, and grass areas.
At a park I feel free from the four walls that I have at home. I also feel like my anxiety drops, so I ‘nit pick’ at my kids less. We all come back home calmer, happier, and healthier.
So next time you have a spare 20 minutes, rug up the kids and enjoy the outdoors.
4 - Get children active using their favourite smart device
I have created movement videos that children can access on their smart devices, as a way to get children moving as much as possible. But I still feel concerned that some children are avoiding 6 to 8 hours of active play outdoors or riding a bike.