KinderTown is a websites and app that curates apps for young children ages 3-6 years. Their website has reviews of apps, an educational blog for instructional ideas and resources, and is a portal for their KinderTown app,. The KinderTown app, compatible with iPad and iPhone, provides a curated listing of educational apps for young children. There is more posted about the KinderTown app at this link.
While perusing their website I ran across Carolina Nugget’s (Director of Education for KinderTown) recent post entitled, “Do Apps Help with Fine Motor?” . The post peaked my interest as it addresses a subject of frequent discussion between therapists on the claim of many apps “work on fine motor skills”. As a OT who has worked with special needs students for many years, I thought she did a great job of addressing what we as OT’s already know but perhaps assume to be known by others. In the frenzy of mobile device use, app adoption and consumption, the true benefits of use of the device or specific apps for fine motor skill development might be somewhat over represented.
Here is a repost by permission of Carolina’s Do Apps Help with Fine Motor ?
Children develop strong fine motor skills through a variety of everyday activities:
- Getting dressed in the morning
- Coloring with a crayon
- Putting together puzzles
- Picking up and manipulating small objects
- Preparing food and feeding themselves by hand or with a utensil
- Building with blocks or Lego bricks
Your classroom teacher supports fine motor development with activities like:
- picking up cotton balls with tweezers
- adding clothespins to objects
- using push pins to create an outline of a picture
- stringing beads onto shoelaces
These are all activities that children need to do repeatedly to develop control, dexterity and strength.
So what about apps? Are their apps that support fine motor development?
These questions I have asked and debated over myself.
I struggle with understanding how tapping and dragging on a screen is going to develop fine motor skills better than building a giant tower with blocks or finger painting with 10 fingers in a big colorful “mess.” Just think about how much fine motor strength it takes to construct with Play-Doh. How can an app claim to meaningfully develop fine motor skills when we have these kind of activities already for our kids?
After discussions with OTs (Occupational Therapists) and reading blogs about how parents and teachers are having success with apps, I am not sure I have the final answers but I do have some ideas and resources to share.
1. Apps are tools. Apps do not replace hands-on experiences for motor development. Apps only are one more experience for children to have in addition to Playdoh and blocks. That is why it is important to regulate the time your child spends on devices and in front of screens
Advice: Choose your apps carefully to make sure their time on the device is meaningful.
iLuv Drawing Animals is an excellent addition to your child’s toys. This app is an amazing drawing tool with easy to follow step by step instructions. Fine motor is developed through sustained, controlled movement and pressure on the screen. Best part is that anything done on the app can easily be replicated with markers, crayons, finger paints and paper.
2. Fine motor and visual motor (the ability to coordinate vision with the movements of the body) are important to develop together. Examples are: dot to dots, puzzles, drawing, tracing. Apps are a wonderful way to encourage visual motor skills in children who still have a difficult time with a crayon or pencil.
Advice: Pick out apps that reinforce plenty of skills well
We love Pirate Scribblebeard’s Treasure with Oscar & Josephine by Kidoodle Apps because while your child is encouraged to be creative they are also interacting with the screen A LOT! The storyline is supportive with lots of choice for your child. A long-lasting app with a fresh, positive take on pirates (who usually get a bad rap).
3. Some kids focus and give more attention to apps. There are a segment of children who struggle with fine motor and also struggle with attention. Apps give therapists, teachers and parents 15 to 20 minutes of practice time with these kiddos, where the activities I mentioned earlier might last 5 minutes. It is important to remember that we need to match the right tool for the right kid.
Advice: If apps motivate your child then use that to your advantage – but as always remember moderation.
Dexteria - Dexteria is great for the child struggling with fine motor development and attention. Learn more about this app and watch a video demonstration at: http://a4cwsn.com/2011/03/dexteria-fine-motor-skill-development/
From an OT perspective I thought Carolina addressed this topic of fine motor skill development well and from a voice of experience with what young children need. It made me realize that as a OT, I review apps for their worth through our knowledge base and use them for what they provide to students, not necessarily adopting what the app states it supports. Not all apps citing they work on fine motor skills really benefit the true need of students with fine motor challenges. As she cites, apps can work on visual motor skills and 2D eye hand coordination skills but do not provide the manipulative, interactive or 3 D activities that inserting pegs, pinching clothespins, turning and rotating blocks, using scissors, finger painting, gripping and feeling real objects of different textures and shapes do. Moderation, as Carolina mentions, and balance in the types of activities offered children is important to develop well-rounded skills. Activities with a wide variety of haptic experiences, tools, positions and movement qualities benefit the students to develop cognitive, perceptual, motor and social skills.
When speaking of moderation, a recent position statement by the American Academy of Pediatricians provides specific recommendations for screen time that is healthy for children address the issue of moderation and the developmental needs of children:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) position on media use states that kids under 2 years old not watch any TV and that those older than 2 watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming.
So, despite the iDevice and app frenzy, it is good to reflect on the appropriateness of the use of these new devices and applications and realize that they are just another tool in our OT tool kit. Our bags are full of all kinds of tools and tricks with the iDevices are just one more. Professional judgement regarding problem solving the right activity and tool that is just the right fit for our student(s) is our job. Teachers and therapists both have great backgrounds to make those decisions. It is important to share that discussion with families that may not have child development background to balance the developmental, motivational, sensory, motor and cognitive needs of needs of their children.
Thank you Carolina for this post to help us be mindful of moderation, balance and using our professional skills to best service our students. Don’t throwing the baby out with the bath water!
Carolina Nugent is an experienced educator and the Director of Education for KinderTown, an educational app store that helps busy parents find the best apps for young kids. Sometimes referred to as the “Chief Curation Officer,” she’s evaluated more than 1,000 apps for kids. See more of her reviews in the FREE KinderTown App, available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.
How do you balance the use of your OT tools?