Getting a grip: Classic toys for Christmas could help rebuild hand muscles weakened by technology use

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Some Kindergarten and preschool teachers are sounding the alarm over tablet usage and what it appears to be doing to kids and their muscle development. If you’re still looking for last minute gifts for your kids, you might want to think about some old-school toys.

“Holding a pencil, seems to me as an occupational therapist is one of the biggest things that parents bring their kids in for,” Children’s Hospital of Richmond Occupational Therapist Jessica Lynn explained.

Kids are using their pointer fingers just fine, thanks to those phones and tablets. But it appears to be taking its toll on other hand muscles that used to get worked out with things like crafts and coloring.

Lynn works with lots of kids who are struggling to develop those muscles in their hands. She demonstrated the therapy she uses, which includes lots of games with kids identifying and picking up or grabbing at toys.

The official data isn’t there yet on whether or not technology is to blame, but she says many of her older colleagues say this rise in problems began with the arrival of tablets and smartphones.

Parents frequently ask her what toys they should be putting under the tree for Christmas.

“Play-doh, or putty, or anything like that works the muscles of the hand,” Lynn said. “That’s what they’re missing out on when they’re using the Ipad. There’s no resistance.”

We found a lot of those fun, but educational types of playthings at the ‘Toys that Teach’ store in South Richmond. The shelves rival those at Santa’s Workshop this time of year.

So, what are some of the popular toys to help kids with fine motor skills? Old school toys like cars that you push are always popular. So are new twists on toys that stick together and pull apart, or things like this where kids play with small parts, moving them around. The idea being they work on fine motor skills and they’re using their imagination.

“Trying to get away from Ipads and cell phones as much as possible, have them use their brains,” parent Tammy Leopold while doing some last-minute shopping for stocking stuffers.

Lynn said parents shouldn’t totally discount technology; instead, she says they should use it to help get kids motivated to work on those hand skills.

“There are a lot of really great apps to work on handwriting and tracing and letter formation,” she said. “Use it as a tool. A few minutes on the Ipad, then you go to paper crayons. You go from one to the other.”

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