iPad generation needs to come to grips with pens

The write stuff: Jacky Peile makes sure kids like Alex Efthimiou can hold their pen properly. Picture: Chris Lane
The write stuff: Jacky Peile makes sure kids like Alex Efthimiou can hold their pen properly. Picture: Chris Lane

An occupational therapist has urged parents to limit children's use of iPads and other technology to arrest a fall in handwriting ability.

Jacky Peile of Early Links, Caringbah, said more children were being treated for poor pen grip, which she blamed on the overuse of technology.

She said primary school teachers were reporting a rise in children unable to hold a pen properly, with some grasping a pen with all five fingers.

"I think where that comes from is when you swipe across an iPad, kids use a whole arm action," she said.

"That is having the biggest impact on handwriting."

Ms Peile blamed parents moving away from traditional early childhood toys, such as blocks and puzzles, for the rise in handwriting problems.

She said parents needed to go back to basics and ensure children's playtime did not always involve a device.

She recommended young children spend time "going outside, picking up sticks, picking up leaves off the grass" while older children should be encouraged to set the table, peg out washing and help with cooking.

She also recommended introducing children to crayons and pencils from the age of one and following maximum screen-time recommendations.

"I am certainly an advocate of using an iPad. I use them in my therapy," she said.

"But they should not be used as a babysitter . . . and children should not do a particular activity for more than 20 minutes at a time."

Ms Peile also recommended children use fingers over whole-arm movements when using an iPad.

Set an example

Parents are being warned to limit their own use of technology if they want to set a good example for their children.

With children spending more time in front of screens than ever before, experts are warning parents to heed the maximum daily recommendations for technology use.

Overuse of technology in children is linked to everything from poor social skills, inability to concentrate, disturbed sleep and a drop in fine motor skills required for handwriting.

Educational psychologist Jocelyn Brewer recommends parents limit their own use of technology around children. 

She said parents who were constantly on a computer, smartphone or tablet were setting a bad example. She said overuse of technology negatively affected family life and could lead to children feeling disconnected from their parents and siblings.

She suggested following the recommended screen-time limits of a maximum of two hours a day for children aged 5 to 18 and one hour for younger children. 

Children under two should have no access to screens, experts say. Screen-time includes TV, gaming consuls, computers and hand-held devices.

Ms Brewer is an ambassador for the Pilot Pen Creative Writing Scholarship, a national program encouraging children to write a creative story using pen and paper.

Helpful hints

  • Give blocks and puzzle pieces to young children which they can grip with their hands.
  • From the age of one, give a thick pencil or crayon to children and encourage them to scribble.
  • By two to three years, children should be progressing to a thinner pencil or crayon.
  • Children aged 3 to four should be encouraged to grip their pencil correctly; keep refining their pencil grip up to seven years.
  • Encourage children to draw, colour or write their own thoughts until the age of 12.