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How does screen time affect my child’s handwriting skills?

siblings watching videos on tablets

Key points:

  1. Fine motor skills are crucial for holding and manipulating objects, which are essential for tasks like writing, buttoning a shirt, and tying shoelaces.
  2. Children develop these skills through exploring with their hands and fingers.
  3. Excessive screen time can negatively affect fine motor skills and hand dexterity.
  4. Developing fine motor skills in early childhood predicts future success in writing, reading, and math.

Fine motor skills are required for your child to hold and manipulate objects. Scribbling, buttoning up a shirt, tying shoelaces, and writing; all require finger dexterity and hand coordination skills. Since they were born, your little one has been working on strengthening their hands using all the tools around them. As they explore with their hands and fingers, tiny muscles coordinate very precise movements: from being able to shake a rattle, to picking up small pieces of cereal or holding a crayon. Every movement, tool, and activity are helping your little one master skills and also prepare them for future ones.

Another tool your little one has and wants nowadays are technological devices. Researchers from the University of Toronto found that by 18 months, 20% of children use handheld devices for half an hour a day. Findings of a longitudinal studies in Canada that observed screen time and motor proficiency in children reported a negative relationship between the amount of time spent in front of a screen and motor competence in ages 4, 5, and 7. Sally Payne, pediatric therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, mentioned that children are not coming to school with the hand strength and dexterity that they had 10 years ago. She mentions that the amount of time children spend with a TV, tablet, or smartphone is affecting their ability to develop the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil.


Another Canadian study compared writing on the screen of a digital tablet with handwriting skills on paper. Findings reported that writing on the tablet had a negative effect on pen movements, changing pressure, movement speed, and muscular adjustment. The skills your little one develops during their first years are of tremendous importance for their future development. Scientists have found that developing fine motor skills in early childhood can predict not only writing success, but better performance in reading and math in elementary school. On the other hand, another study demonstrated that printing, writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct areas and patterns in the brain.

So, while technology is an amazing tool and has many positive benefits for your life, it also impacts childhood, since kids spend more time indoors online and less time physically engaged in activities. There’s no need to have technology off limits, simply monitor its use to keep your little one engaged and working on their physical skills as well. Try to emphasize on the muscle-building play that comes from exploring with building blocks, different sized objects, and pull-push toys. As your child combines the use of different fingers and manipulates objects in different ways, you’ll keep fostering their physical and overall development. Soon they’ll be ready for the school years.

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