Children’s habits are changing. Where once a toddler might have played with bricks , now they are more likely to play on an iPad.
Such devices can provide a welcome distraction for busy parents and an attractive source of sensory stimulant for young children but does it mean that children are not developing the fine motor skills they need to write?
Sally Payne, brain paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust has seen indication this is the case.
She recently told the Guardian newspaper: “Children coming into school are being given a pencil but, increasingly, they are not able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills.
“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 abilities, ” she added.
Ms Payne blamed the spread of tablets and smartphones in toddlers’ lives for the children’s inability to grip and hold a pencil.
“It’s easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building block, cutting and staying, or drawing dolls and ropes, ” she said.
A few years ago a video clipof a one-year-old newborn daughter frantically swiping at a publication ran viral, representing that children firmly occupy a digital world.
According to the communications regulator Ofcom, more than half of UK households own tablet machines, rising to 76% for smartphones.
Dr Jane Medwell is part of the Write Your Future campaign – a group championing the importance of handwriting.
She said that the proliferation of gadgets in homes meant that “some infants don’t get as much pencil play-act as they used to”.
And habits learned from mothers are changing too.
“The earliest thing you may see now is a mother texting on telephone calls while in the past it might have been someone writing a shopping list by hand, so children’s experience of early literacy has changed, ” Dr Medwell explained.
But she does not believe the case is yet built for relating more tablet time to a lack of motor skills.
“We don’t have research that says use a tablet means you can only swipe and not hold a pencil and we don’t even know whether there are less pencils in homes, ” she said.
What there is evidence for though, is the importance of handwriting.
A 2005 learn from the neuroscience laboratory at Aix-Marseille University subdivided 76 infants aged three to five into two groups – one wrote by hand, the other using personal computers.
The researchers found that the group that learned to write letters by hand were better at recognising them than the group that learned to type them on a computer.
And a 2016 analyse, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that students typing up notes from TED talks tended to take verbatim notes whereas those writing longhand were forced to be more selective.
While both remembered realities such as dates, different groups that wrote notes were better at recollecting conceptual questions.
For very young children, there are also huge advantages in writing.
“There is lots of good stuff on tablets and phones but children require the conventional literacy world too, ” mentioned Dr Medwell.
“How you create a letter, how you induce complex motions. It takes practice and it helps children learn literacy, ” she added.
Dr Mellissa Prunty, a lecturer in occupational therapy and the evil chair of the National Handwriting Association, is cautious about making a is connected with tablet/ phone use and handwriting skills.
“There are other factors such as spelling and speech developing, but also how much handwriting children engage with at nursery or pre-school groups and how much writing they do at school, ” said Dr Prunty.
Most of the handwriting referrals she has in her clinic are from children with underlying conditions, such as Developmental Coordination Disorder, known as dyspraxia.
“What occupational therapists on the ground are observing now are children without any underlying impairments, ” she said.
“Although this is an interesting observation, we don’t know from studies and research point of view if technology is impacting on fine engine skills generally and whether that is having a knock-on impact to handwriting.”
In 2015, Finland became one of the first countries in the world to stop building cursive handwriting grades compulsory.
The move was partly an acknowledgement that keyboard abilities were going to be far more useful to the current generation of digital aborigines.
Indian schools too have abandoned cursive writing in favour of clean, legible print.
By contrast, in late 2017 the US state of Illinois passed a statute requiring school students to read joined-up handwriting.
We do write less than we used to do.
A study from 2014 suggested that one in three adults ran six months without writing anything by hand but in education, writing remains a key skill.
“At the moment, handwriting is the main medium of writing from primary school to university and it is a skill that children have to acquire, ” told Dr Prunty.
“If handwriting is laboured that they are able have a knock-on impact to all areas of writing from spelling, punctuation to generating notions, ” she added.
As to whether it is important to discovered the grandiose cursive writing our grandparents excelled at, Dr Medwell is not convinced.
“Children need an efficient way of writing, this means “correct” letter motions are vital and need to become second nature, ” she explained.
But, she added, “were not receiving” empirical proof that a joined up style improves writing.
And for some infants who struggle with the technique, forcing them to employ it could in fact be “counter-productive” she said.