This photo has gone viral on social media showing exactly why younger kids need more play based learning and less structure.

The image originally shared on Raising Her Barefoot Facebook page has attracted hundreds of thousands of shares, comments and likes.

The original caption reads:

“Look at the differences between a typical preschool child’s hand (left) and a typical 7 year old hand (right). Want to know why a preschool aged child isn’t able to write yet? This is why!

“Their hands are still developing and are not fully formed. So what should they be doing to support this? PLAY!! Playdough, colouring, cutting, gluing, playing outside, digging in dirt, sensory play, dress up play, science experiments, beading, puzzles, throwing balls, etc.

All of these things help their hands develop. When they are physically ready to write, they will! No need to rush them, they will show you when they are ready!”

What the experts say

Parenting expert, Dr Justin Coulson, is one of thousands who shared the image along with his thoughts on the matter…

“I’m not an OT. I don’t know if this is actually true. If it’s not, I’ll remove it. But if it is – wow.

“Kids need outside. Kids need play. Kids need to climb and explore and do stuff with ‘things’. And yes, they need education and reading/writing too… but in time! Not when they’re little.”

Dr Justin Coulson

Dr Justin received lots of responses along with many from professional OT’s saying there is partly truth to the image.

Erika said, “I’m an OT and a hand therapist. There is truth in this but it’s not the whole truth. The structures are there but they are soft and made of cartilage, they haven’t ossified (turned to bone) yet which is why you can’t see them on the x-ray.

In my mind learning to write is a thing the brain and muscles need to be appropriately developed for and the activities that Heather is advocating will help with all of that. Maybe a stronger skeleton that comes with age helps with that too.

The problem I find, as a parent, is that if my kid falls behind early they have a lot of catching up to do. So while telling parents their kid isn’t ready yet helps take a load off, will the kid be able to catch up later? I think the problem is that our system has kids starting so early and perhaps we need to work on changing that.”

Janita said, “OT here. Yes, it’s true. There are so many sub skills or pre writing skills that combine to enable a child to write. Handwriting is a very complex task as earlier OT comments have explained.”

Karyn said, “I’m a Paediatric OT and completely agree. Little hands need to be exploring, and figuring out how to get into things, pushing/pulling/squeezing, exploring textures….”

Berry said, “As a Paediatric OT I like the sentiment behind this and have seen this image doing the rounds and felt that it may cause confusion for families and teachers.

We still need to advocate for early identification of challenge for children in order to ensure early, timely and targeted intervention.

The broader issues that we see emerging in our society including a decrease in children’s physical abilities and an increase in anxiety, reflect that more children will be finding the task of handwriting challenging.

So whilst we shouldn’t push children into inappropriate tasks for their development it is still important to remember that not all children do ‘catch up’, so we do families and children a disservice if we don’t identify the need for intervention early on and make the relevant referral.”

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