Why Kumon encourages students to hold a pencil

Oct 2023
Children need lots of opportunity to develop their finger muscles.

Doctors have warned against the excessive use of touchscreen technology by children who increasingly find it hard to hold pencils when they begin school.

According to Sally Payne, the head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust,

"Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago. [They] are being given a pencil but are increasingly not able to hold it because they don't have the fundamental movement skills.

"To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills."

Tapping and swiping on phones and tablets employs different finger muscles to drawing and writing, and overuse of these devices is leaving children with underdeveloped finger muscles. Doctors say this is preventing them from being able to hold a pencil correctly. Having had little practice holding and controlling a pencil means these children will likely struggle when this becomes a daily requirement at school.

Kumon understands just how important fine motor skills are to unlock a child's full potential, and that's why we have a pencil skills programme specifically designed to develop a child's ability to write.

In the early years, our pencil skills programme can really support a child's transition to school by helping them develop an appropriate pencil grip in a supportive way. Our exercises gently progress children from colouring pictures with a thick crayon to carefully drawing straight and curved lines, as well as intricate design with a pencil. We know there are many stages before a child can write with dexterity, and our programme and our Instructors develop students through all the stages.

As children continue to progress with Kumon, they'll successfully be able to join their letters, form sentences and write neatly with speed and accuracy.

When young learners on the programme are ready to start practising with a pencil, the first exercise involves connecting images of fruit. The aim of this is simply to help them get used to holding a pencil whilst drawing vertical lines with a start point and a stop point. As they progress, the lines become longer, thinner, and gradually more complex as vertical and wavy lines are introduced.

Over time as children's skills develop, the complexity and length of the shapes gradually become more challenging. As the white guiding lines become smaller, children need to become increasingly accurate. This requires them to hold the page still with their non-writing hand, whilst improving their wrist control and finger dexterity. As the exercises progress they become able to do short, sharp turns and anticlockwise movements, beginning to draw complex lines that follow the shape and angles of many letters and numbers.

Ultimately students can write their numbers and letters with confidence and can focus their brain on the new maths and English skills they will be learning.

It's easy to assume that children are getting the same level of fine motor skills and pencil practice that we had as children, when in fact it might be fairly limited. Children need lots of opportunity to develop their finger muscles, strength and skills so look for opportunities to present them with engaging projects to develop their pencil grip.