Old School Skills/New School Tech

Growing up, it seemed like we had a lot to accomplish. It wasn’t just about manners or good grades, but mastering day-to-day skills by a certain age or we were doomed. Can you hear it now? “If you don’t learn this, you won’t make it as a grown up.”

In fairness, these skills were necessary to participate in daily activities at the time. We needed to know how to tie our shoes by the age of 5 or we ran the risk of tripping over ourselves. We had to know who to read an analog clock or we would miss the bus. 

Now, we have a good amount of tech that has replaced a lot of those hard line demands that we had as kids.

A digital clock. Shoes with Velcro, keyboarding and talk-to-text. These all have made our lives easier and have pushed off the need to master various life skills by an expected age.

In fact, a 2018 survey found that 45% of children cannot tie their shoes, relying on Velcro straps instead. Additionally, 42% under the age of 10 can’t tell analog time, confidently use a knife and fork, or read maps. Conversely, 66% of parents polled said their children were great with computers and tablets.

With these modern-day conveniences comes the question of whether these pasttime expectations are still relevant for our children to learn. The short answer: yes. Just because their immediacy to achieve them by a definite time frame has waned, it doesn’t make them any less important. But why? Let’s find out.

Shoe Tying

Do you remember when you were first learning how to tie your shoes? For some of us, we don’t recall learning the skill, we just did it. That’s because some of us learned it well before entering elementary school.

Shoe-tying was regarded as a developmental milestone during the preschool/kindergarten years. It meant that you were a big kid who can do big kid things, all by yourself. However, in two generations, we’ve developed Velcro shoes, elastic tighteners with locks, whatever crocs are made of…. You’d be hard pressed to find shoe laces on kid shoes, or parents willing to deal with them at such a young age.

Shoes have undergone an evolution, first developed with laces and then onward to other fasteners like Velcro, zippers, or bungee cords. Newer athletic shoe designs allow for us to just slip them on, providing comfort and security around the foot. This innovation isn’t only beneficial to parents who are constantly tying their kid’s shoe while running out the door, but also to kids who want more autonomy and independence.

As laceless shoes have become more commonplace, the need to know how to tie shoes by kindergarten has lessened. If your child isn’t wearing tie-up shoes, why do they need to learn it? Also, children learn through observation and experience. If they’re not seeing you tie their shoes day in and day out (or tying your own shoes for that matter), they see no value in learning this skill until the occasion arises.

So, have shoelaces run their course? Not really. Shoelaces are still the go-to for many athletic sneaks. They are lightweight, soft, inexpensive, and adjustable. If the laces break or get dirty, it’s easy to swap them out. Compare this to Velcro fasteners which are part of the shoe. If that system breaks, you would have to purchase a new pair of kicks. Also, research has found that shoelaces help prevent injuries in runners compared to elastic fasteners. So yes, shoe-tying is still a needed life skill for kids to have, but don’t feel bad if your child can’t figure it out before first grade. Chances are their peers are struggling with it too.

Cursive Writing

Generally, when we learned handwriting, we first learn print, then cursive. Do you remember the first time your teacher asked you to type an assignment rather than handwrite it? The signature you once so painstakingly tried to make your own has been reduced to a finger swipe as documents have become electronic.

Adults don’t really use long-form writing day-to-day, so recently schools have made learning cursive optional. Although this is a practical move, accumulating evidence shows that not learning cursive may hinder the brain’s potential to learn and recall information. The latest research reveals that cursive handwriting primes the brain for learning by syncing brain waves and stimulating neural activity in the parietal lobe (handles somatosensory functions) and central regions of the brain. These areas help process and retain new information which allows for optimal learning. Handwriting has also been found to support reading skills in young children as it engages areas in the brain responsible for letter processing.

Even though academia favors typing over handwriting, that doesn’t mean that writing itself is no longer necessary. Yes, kids will become more proficient in keyboarding, but they’ll still reach for a pencil and paper when they need to jot something down. Plus, handwriting is personal and unique to everyone, allowing for self-expression and a sense of identity with the stroke of a pen.

Cursive writing, similar to calligraphy or hand lettering, could now fall into the category of hobby. Cursive may not be formally taught in schools, but teachers still try to make sure a student can read and understand something written in cursive. Your kid may want to learn cursive eventually, so that may fall on you.

Telling Time on an Analog Clock

How many of us still have an analog clock?
Okay, how many of us have a working analog clock that’s not just for decoration (like, has a fresh battery in it and it’s telling the correct time)?

While we understand the value of reading the time in this manner, it’s beginning to feel obsolete as almost all homes, gadgets, and appliances use digital clocks. As some schools in the U.K. have removed their analogs since students struggle to read the clock face, the U.S. continues to keep lessons about telling time as part of the elementary school curriculum. The reason is because the math concepts taught around 1st grade (counting by 5s, fractions, etc.) coincide with reading a clock. What better way to reinforce math skills than with real-life application?

An analog clock also provides children with a visual representation of time passing, something a digital one can’t do. Watching the hands move by the second/minute/hour a certain distance around a circle lets kids understand the concept of elapsed time. Telling time in this manner can also help them develop their own internal sense of time (What 5 minutes feels like compared to an hour).

While analog clocks may not be as common as they once were, they are still relevant in our children’s learning and development.

Although these three skills are taking a back seat while technology and innovation make our lives a bit easier, it’s still important to learn them. The difference is that we don’t need to rush our kids to master them by a specific age nor are our kids lacking because it may take them longer to do so.

Patti and I brainstormed a ton of skills we no longer use, even though teachers swore we would need them as adults: parallel parking, stick shift, metrics, using a printed dictionary, the library card catalog. Yes Mrs. Dixon, we do walk around with calculators in our pockets all the time. 

When you think about it, one of the tenets of OT is that we adjust the environment to help learn the skill. Now that our tech landscape has completely changed, certain skill developments and milestones can be adjusted accordingly, too. It doesn’t hinder our kid’s ability or potential.

So give yourself a little break and ignore the “back in my day” talk.  

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Almost HALF of children under ten can’t tie their shoelaces, study finds | The Sun
Why Are Shoelaces Still a Thing? (vice.com)
Hong, Y., Wang, L., Li, J. X., & Zhou, J. H. (2011). Changes in running mechanics using conventional shoelace versus elastic shoe cover. Journal of Sports Sciences29(4), 373–379. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2010.534805
James, K. H., & Engelhardt, L. (2012). The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends in Neuroscience and Education1(1), 32–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tine.2012.08.001
Why Cursive Handwriting Is Good for Your Brain | Psychology Today
The uncertain future of handwriting – BBC Future
Ose Askvik, E., van der Weel, F. R. (Ruud), & van der Meer, A. L. H. (2020). The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults. Frontiers in Psychology11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01810
Analog clocks: Some kids can’t read them, but teachers still use them (usatoday.com)

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