This overall weakness in hand skills can be attributed to the increased use of touch screen technologies which children are offered at earlier and earlier ages. The reality is that fine motor skills are a whole lot more than just swiping and tapping a finger across a screen. Our hands are designed for so much more than this and we as human beings need to use our hand effectively to be successful in the world.
Hands are for holding
As human beings we are created to explore our world by touching it, manipulating it, experiencing it “first hand.” Our hands are designed to help us gain knowledge about our world as well as master the environment around us. Fine motor skills are a whole lot more than swiping and tapping. They are about reaching, grasping and releasing; they are about discriminating differences and manipulating objects to successfully complete a task.
We learn about the three-dimensional world with our hands, we learn about physics and math and develop problem solving skills when we manipulate objects. When we give a child five blocks they physically learn what “five” means, they immediately begin to compare the five blocks, how hard are they, how are they the same, how are they different, how many can they hold in one hand, how many with both hands, how can they manipulated them to build things. All of this happens by using their fine motor skills. They learn how many muscles fibers they need to activate to hold onto one block, how they must twist their wrist to place it onto the previous block and how they have to control letting it go to get that block to balance just right to build a tower of blocks. It might simply look like a child play with blocks but there is a whole lot of problem solving going on in this simple childhood activity.
Fixing the problem
So how do we address this rising issue? It is not something that will be fixed quickly because the development of fine motor skills happens over the developmental process. It begins in infancy as a baby reaches for their mother’s hair or holds a bottle or when they begin picking up toys, food or objects they find in their environment. Fine motor and gross motor skills development happen as a dance throughout childhood as they play in their world. The problem is that their world is becoming more and more about a tiny little screen and less and less about reaching out and grabbing the whole world around them.
We as adults have the ability to put the right play items in the hands of our children. We need to move away from putting that cellphone or tablet into their hands and give them blocks of assorted sizes, textures and weights. We need to let children get their hands dirty by giving them things that they can squeeze and smash. They need to play with objects that are smooth, gritty, odd shapes and sizes. We need to let children push and pull on things in their world to get a good understanding of how they can move objects. Only in getting “first hand” experience of the world can children know how to manipulate it and develop the hand skills need to be successful in our world.