Yes, even toddlers are mastering smartphones and remote controls. A gadget in hand is as commonplace as a toy in hand. And yes, our e-world will surely continue to become more “e” as time goes on. But touching, grasping, and manipulating paper learning tools continue to develop vital skills in unique ways.
Tactile, of course, relates to sense of touch, and pencil and paper (or crayon and paper!) is undeniably a different tactile experience than screen tapping and swiping.
A University of Washington website titled Neuroscience for Kids reminds us that “The skin is the largest sensory organ of the body. The skin is sensitive to many different kinds of ‘stimuli’, such as touch, pressure, and temperature. Within the skin, there are different types of ‘receptors’ that are activated by different stimuli.” The site offers a variety of tactile-focused activities for K-12 designed to heighten sensitivity to and discrimination across different touches, textures, and temperatures.
We know that paper, and making marks on paper with a hand-held writing implement, feels far different than our onscreen motions, even if using a stylus. Working with crayons and pencils helps develop fine motor skills, which are necessary for writing, zipping, buttoning, tying shoelaces, cutting, threading, and using other tools and utensils. The ability to hold a writing instrument has earlier developmental milestones. The “pincer grasp,” or the ability to hold a small object between thumb and index finger or middle finger, emerges between the 10th and 12th month of a baby’s life.
A website titled OT Mom Learning Activities explains that there are stages of “pencil grasp development,” and offers tips for developing this skill as well as ideas for encouraging both fine and gross motor skill development. The Teach Handwriting site from the UK also offers information on pencil grasp, and both resources call out the importance of not forcing “correct” pencil grasp too soon but letting it evolve in stages.
Get toddlers’ hands moving in skill-building ways with workbooks such as the Little Ones Sticker Skills workbook series, including Lines, Shapes, Colors, Opposites, Numbers, Think. Also super for developing both early readiness and fine motor skills are the I Try Skill Cards for toddlers including Alphabet I Try Skill Cards, Numbers 1-10 I Try Skill Cards, and Memory Match I Try Skill Cards, all of which also offer game-play options.
In addition to handling/manipulating cards and working with pencil and paper, kids also sharpen fine motor skills through a variety of everyday activities such as coloring, getting dressed, stringing beads, using blocks and Legos, and putting together puzzles to name just a few.
Give kids activities in addition to devices that they can touch and grasp—literally. Avoid writing off the value of pencil and paper for building important skills.