“I personally still find it disturbing to see a child pick up a book and try to swipe left”.
This statement was made by delegate Jennifer Bhambri-Lyte, during a debate about libraries at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference in Brighton, which took place last month.
I came across this statement whilst listening to the radio last week, where it was announced to strike up a discussion with listeners about what effect we think technology is having on our children. I decided to investigate the topic further myself and it was during this research that I came across these two articles from The Telegraph and TES News.
I have previously discussed the potential effects that gadgets, such as phones and tablets are having on children in a previous blog, which I actually posted over a year ago and from what these articles discuss, it seems as though the concerns I raised in this blog have been proven correct.
It is now very uncommon for a child in primary or secondary school to not have access to a tablet, smartphone or other gadgets. In fact, in many cases the child will actually have their own tablet or gadget, with at least a third of pre-school children in the UK having their own iPad or a similar tablet that they use for an average of one hour and 19 minutes every weekday according to a report in The Guardian.
Although I do feel that these gadgets can often be used to help create an entertaining way for children to learn, they are in fact taking away from a child’s ability to write legibly. Whilst running my free handwriting workshops and working with schools across the country, I have witnessed first-hand children who simply do not possess the muscle strength in their hand or the fine and gross motor skills to hold a pencil correctly, let alone to use that pencil to create legible handwriting. You only have to look at the second picture down in this article to see the difficulty children are having. The child in the picture is holding the pencil incorrectly.
It is vital that during the pre-school age, children are doing activities to develop these muscles and skills, as this lack of development can really hinder them throughout their school career. If these skills have not been developed fully, a child may find it difficult and even painful to hold a pencil correctly to write, which in turn will affect the legibility of their handwriting.
However, with more children turning to screen-based technology during their play time, over activities that do help to develop the hand muscles and fine and gross motor skills (such as moulding playdough and cutting with scissors), these muscles and skills simply are not being fully developed.
So surely the effects we are seeing can come as no surprise, with children being exposed to this technology from such a young age and being allowed to use it so often.
The relationship between reading and handwriting
During the same National Union of Teachers (NUT) annual conference in Brighton last month, delegate Jennifer Bhambri-Lyte also made the following comment: “Kindles and iPads are wonderful things, but many of my friends talked about the smell of a book, finding tickets and receipts that someone had left as a bookmark, echoes of all the people that had been there before”.
This comment sparked a further comment from Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT, who said, “Reading for pleasure is a skill for life and is consistently shown to be one of the most powerful springboards for children’s engagement with learning, thinking and creating”
Karin Jones, psychologist at Indiana University argues that in order for children to become effective readers, they must practise handwriting and she gives two reasons for this. Firstly, she states “learning-by-doing is far more effective than learning-by-seeing. You do not learn to swim by watching a video on swimming because the procedural learning always involves making connections between the sensory and motor areas of the brain that are recruited for this task.”
Secondly, she argues that “handwriting practice is an essential component of learning to read. Writing out letters helps young children recognise them. Learning letters by handwriting not only helps kids extract the essential features of letters; it’s also the only method that establishes the brain connections necessary for full literacy.”
Likewise, Angela Webb Chair of the National Handwriting Association wrote “if you handwrite the letter forms, you activate the part of the brain that is implicated in reading, so it helps reading.”
It is clear from my own experience and from what has been discussed in these articles that technology is having a detrimental effect on our children’s ability to write legibly, as well as how quickly they pick up the skill of reading.
We are not suggesting that tablets and other gadgets should be completely banned, but we do want to highlight just how important it is for parents to limit the amount of time their child is spending on this technology. It is without doubt that the digital age has changed the way we all communicate and while I can see many benefits, it is important to avoid the dangers too.
We want to urge parents and teachers to ensure they are regularly encouraging their children to take breaks away from all technology, to get involved in more hands-on activities that really stimulate the mind and help with their mental and physical development.
If your child is struggling to hold a pencil correctly, complains they are finding writing by hand painful or has writing that is difficult to read, please bring them along to one of our upcoming free workshops, where we can provide them with the support they need to master legible handwriting.