Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fine Motor Skills for Preschool Engineers

Picture from smartfirstgraders.com

My son's fine motor skills are atrocious and the always have been. When he was a toddler I did everything in my power to invite him to scribble with me with crayons or hold a utensil or tinker with blocks or duplos. He would have NOTHING to do with it. It troubled me a little but he was responsive enough and certainly smart enough to meet dozens of other developmental milestones so I didn't worry about it.

A year passed and his hands lacked so much dexterity that it was starting to be a problem. He couldn't grasp his own clothing to get it on or off, he couldn't feed himself with a utensil, he had trouble turning pages in his favorite books. That is when his behavior became more and more worrisome. He was so frustrated and so incapable of expressing himself (due to language delay) that he would physically lash out - seriously hurting himself or others.

Then I introduced the iPad. At first, he couldn't touch the iPad appropriately but was intensely curious about it. The situation presented a unique opportunity to learn about his sense of touch. So over the course of a plane ride, I worked with him to touch the screen just the right way. We discussed too hard, too soft, swiping up and down and left and right. We had so many successes that we started to spend a little too much time with the device...

Mikey would goggle in and play educational games or watch Curious George. His screen time was easily more than two hours per day (as a 3 year old!). His sleep quality, which was already horrid, got worse. He would only eat if the iPad was propped in front of him. He always chose the screen over a three dimensional toy. It turns out that Mikey and I learned experientially what the UK's Telegraph reported last month in an article called "Infants 'unable to use toy building blocks' due to iPad addiction:"

“I have spoken to a number of nursery teachers who have concerns over the increasing numbers of young pupils who can swipe a screen but have little or no manipulative skills to play with building blocks or the like, or the pupils who cannot socialise with other pupils but whose parents talk proudly of their ability to use a tablet or smartphone.”

 I would be embarrassed of my parenting choices if I had stayed the course. Luckily, I started making changes the day Mikey insisted that watching Curious George would make his hunger pains go away. Over the course of a year I was able to reduce screen time to 30 minutes a day (none on our best days and 90 minutes on our "worst" days). Sleep quality, eating habits, and play habits have drastically improved.

If I had it to do over again I would have prevented the screentime from getting out of hand. But that breakthrough of learning how important it is to use fingers just the right way is priceless to me.

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