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- Doctors have warned that children may not be starting school with the ability to grip pencils properly.
- They say it could be because of the increased use of technology like iPads.
- Using tablets and computers could stop finger muscles developing in the right way so they can easily learn to use pencils and pens.
- However, there might not be a “correct” way of holding a pencil anyway.
When was the last time you physically wrote something down? If you’re anything like the millennials I know, you might struggle to remember. When you do pick up a pen or a pencil, you may even find it feels unnatural and difficult.
According the the Guardian, doctors have warned that children are starting school with insufficient hand strength to use a pencil properly, because they are growing up with so much technology.
Choosing an iPad to play with rather than colouring books could be stopping their finger muscles developing, and so they need extra help when they learn to write.
Sally Payne, the head pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, told the Guardian that children just don’t have the hand strength and dexterity they did a decade ago.
“Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not be able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills,” she said. “To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills.”
One mother named Laura said her six-year-old son Patrick had been having weekly sessions with an occupational therapist for six months because he had been holding his pencil “like cavemen held sticks.”
A paper from 2016, published in the Journal of Hand Therapy, found that young men and women have significantly weaker hand grips than in 1985.
Researchers gathered data from 237 male and female volunteers aged 20-34. They had to squeeze a hand dynamometer, which is like a joystick, and the strength of their grip was then measured in pounds.
Results showed that in 1985, men aged 20-24 had an average grip of 121 pounds on the right hand and 105 pounds on the left. In the study, men of the same age only had grip strengths of 101 and 99 pounds. Men aged 25-29 lost 26 and 19 pounds of strength on either hand. Women also showed losses of strength of about 10 pounds.
“Work patterns have changed dramatically since 1985, when the first norms were established,” Elizabeth Fain, an occupational therapy professor at Winston-Salem State University and lead author of the study told NPR. “As a society, we’re no longer agricultural or manufacturing … What we’re doing more now is technology-related, especially for millennials.”
However, a study from 2012, published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, found there may not be an optimum way to hold a pencil anyway.
The study concluded there are four basic “mature” ways to hold a pencil, and none of them were superior.
“Pencil grasp patterns did not influence handwriting speed or legibility in this sample of typically developing children,” the researchers wrote in the paper. “This finding adds to the mounting body of evidence that alternative grasps may be acceptable for fast and legible handwriting.”
In other words, even if a child holds pencils like a caveman, it might not matter as long as you can read what they’ve written.