Technology impacts on children's motor skill development

IN the future children might not have the arm strength and coordination to hold a pen to write stories and draw pictures on paper.

Child development experts are worried an increased exposure to technology is causing a decline in handwriting skills which is putting children at risk of lagging behind in achieving key developmental and educational milestones.

Naracoorte Early Learning Centre's Jess Sayers said it was very important for children to develop their fine motor skills from a young age.

"It really is essential," she said. "These are skills needed throughout your whole life. Whether it is something as simple as tying shoe-laces, learning how to grip a pen or using scissors for free snipping it all interlinks as you get older.

"I think in an overall sense we are all getting more reliant on technology but I hope there will still be the need to go back to pen and paper in the future."

Mrs Sayers said the centre makes sure children are encouraged to work on their skills on a daily basis.

"Technology does have its benefits but what about the good old basics?"

Kids First Children's Services director Sonja Walker said devices such as computer keyboards and smart phones meant children were growing up without the strength and stamina to hold a pen for the required period of time to use their imagination to create a story, draw and to express their ideas on paper.

"I have seen a marked increase in the number of children requiring occupational therapy and fine motor skills support due to a lack of strength and muscle coordination in their hands and lower arms as a direct result of the overuse of technology," she said.

Research shows that children's exposure to technology is increasing at an "alarming" rate. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 40 per cent of children aged between five and 14 watch more than 20 hours of television a fortnight, which is equivalent to 10 hours a week. 

"This figure does not include time in front of a computer game, iphone, tablet, laptop or other device and so the actual number of hours children spend in front of a screen is, in reality, much higher," Ms Walker said.

Australia's Physical Activity Recommendations say children aged five to 18 years should accumulate no more than two hours of screen time per day and children under the age of two should not spend any time viewing television or other electronic media.

Ms Walker said technology was leading to a loss of more traditional childhood pursuits such as reading, art and craft and story-writing - all of which have a crucial part to play in fostering creativity and imagination as well as increasing the development of hand-eye coordination.

She advised parents to talk with their children and gain agreement on the amount of time spent in front of a screen.

"By limiting screen time, parents can help shift the balance to allow space for children to grow and find time to enjoy exploring their own imagination and creativity, as well as enjoy the wonderful world of modern technology."

Ms Walker is an ambassador for the Pilot Pen Creative Writing Scholarship, a national program which encourages children to step away from the keyboard and write a creative story by hand.

"Holding a pen, touching paper and gazing out of the window for inspiration is far removed from the black and white world of spell-check and auto-correct," she said.

"Sometimes children need to learn to rely on their own intuition and this helps to develop confidence and freedom of expression."

The Pilot Pen Creative Writing Scholarship is currently open to primary school children in years five and six and closes on July 31. 

For further information, visit www.pilotpen.com.au.

Tess Pape and Harrison Clarke develop their fine motor skills by using a pair of scissors to cut up magazines at the Naracoorte Early Learning Centre.

Tess Pape and Harrison Clarke develop their fine motor skills by using a pair of scissors to cut up magazines at the Naracoorte Early Learning Centre.