Educators see decline in student motor skills, blame increase in - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Educators see decline in student motor skills, blame increase in screen time

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - Preschool educators noticed an increase in students not developing the fine motor skills needed to hold pencils or crayons in class. 

Faith Lutheran Christian Preschool Director Tresa Juedes has taught toddlers for 24 years, but as the years added up, she saw a skill wind down. 

"One of the biggest things I see is kids holding onto pencils and crayons," Juedes said. "They don't really know how."

It is a problem experts attribute to technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics said 97 percent of kids use mobile devices, and most kids ages three to four can use them without any help. 

"When kids are using iPads and they are swiping, they are only using one hand and one finger," HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital Occupational Therapist Bethany Ellwanger said. "They are not manipulating toys and using both hand together, so you'll see poor coordination of using both hands together and also, they are not developing those little tiny muscles in their hands. They are not developing the fine motor skills."

Ellwanger is a part of HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital's pediatric therapy program known as S.P.O.T.S., which stands for speech, physical, and occupational therapy services. Ellwanger said those motor skills affect everything from holding a pencil to being able to open a door or cut wit scissors. 

Educators said technology can be a tool. 

"Our lives are busy right now, and technology does work," Juedes said. "I think if they limit it, it is probably very good for them, especially if it is educational."

Experts said the best way to get a grip on education is simply to play. 

"Early intervention is key for a lot of these kids," Ellwanger said. "Get out the crayons. Practice cutting, even with playdough scissors. Have your kids play with playdough. Manipulate things. Build things. Use Legos or stacking blocks. Play outside."

Occupational therapists said they are even seeing a delay in kids being able to tie their shoes because they cannot quite coordinate their muscle movement. 

With winter around the corner, experts said a fun way to strengthen those muscles could be to build a snowman or create a fort. 

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