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Research Round-Up: A Look at Children's Fine Motor Skills in 2018

The Question:

What does current research reveal about kids' fine motor skills in today's world?

In today's world, younger and younger children are spending more time engaged in technology of all types. Whether they use phones or tablets or even laptop computers, they are mastering games and apps and programs. Is this affecting the acquisition of fine motor skills? Are they spending too much time on various devices and not enough time engaged in hands-on activities?

Well, a couple of studies show some interesting data.

The Research and the Results:

Study #1: A study was completed at the Dublin City University's School of Health. It assessed children's abilities with fine motor skills such as with drawing shapes, fixing laces, and putting pegs into a pegboard. Results suggested that children may be lagging in fine motor skills acquisition. It showed that 36% of children tested did not meet expected fine motor milestones (Issartel et al. 2017). See the research here!

Study #2: An article was published in the journal, Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, that studied fine motor skills in preschoolers (Lin et al., 2017). Researchers reported that children who engaged in greater than 60 minutes of weekly touch-screen, computer play had weaker fine motor skill when compared to children who engaged in less touch-screen time. These results suggest that today’s increased use of technology may be negatively impacting fine motor development in kids. See the research here!

The Plan:

The author of the Dublin study, Dr. Johann Issartel, commented on the findings:

"Not only are children’s physical activity participation and motor skill proficiency levels dropping; children are not developing fine motor skills such as drawing and picking up small objects (e.g coins) like they should.

This impacts academic achievement and quality of life both now and in the future. We need to think about how we can tackle this emerging problem before they have long term consequences.”

In today's world, it may be difficult to eliminate the use of technology with younger children. And some programs undoubtedly are well-designed and teach academic concepts such as letter sounds etc. But perhaps we try to hone a system to incorporate fine motor activities in the day to day. I outlined some suggestions that I have shared with parents of kids I have worked with in OT.

1- Incorporate two-handed tasks during the day . . .

Try to encourage kids to open plastic jars (like peanut butter), cereal boxes, containers at school. I

recommend getting in the habit of handing an object that needs opening to a child (with the exception of glass jars).

Tying shoes is another way to encourage a child to use two hands together. Even if he is not yet ready to tie shoes on his own, he can complete the final step of the task every day, pulling the loops tight. Encourage buttoning as well. If he can't button his shirt yet, work on unbuttoning first.

2- Try a variety of animal walks on a daily basis . . .

Animal walks to build shoulder strength. Upper body strength is a crucial building block for fine motor skills. In order to have distal control (control of the hand and fingers) a child needs proximal control and strength. If a child's shoulder isn't strong and steady, she won't have a solid basis to move her hands well. Try polar bear walks (slow and steady) and crab walks (remember those).

3- Work on that pincer grasp!

My all-time favorite activity for working on pincer grasp is putting coins in a container or piggy bank. Every day, adults in a child's life can hand him a few coins and he can out them away "for safekeeping". The action of placing coins in a slot forces the use of a pincer grasp!

If you enjoy this blog, follow me! Or follow me on Facebook (CLICK HERE). I love sharing games, activities, and ideas to help kids master skills! And you can check out my products available that address fine motor acquisition, handwriting, and other skills on my products page at KIDSMASTERSKILLS.COM.

Lisa Marnell, Occupational Therapist

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