Professional development days often provide opportunities to talk with colleagues we never normally get the time to sit and talk to at length. Last Friday I was fortunate to be able to spend the morning with Gerald Melton, the school art teacher with nearly fifty years of experience under his belt. The conversation began with a celebration of the resurgence of the importance of the arts , highlighted by the STEM to STEAM movement but moved on to Gerry’s observation of a declining skill among a certain population of students that may have a significant impact on the workforce of the future. I am thrilled to introduce Gerry as my first guest blogger and invite you to join our conversation:
With the current proliferation of personal digital devices, boys are becoming increasingly lacking in development of their fine motor skills outside the school art class. During the last half of my 46 years of teaching art to children of all ages, mainly elementary and middle school, I have noticed a marked decline in boys’ choosing activities outside of school which require the practice of fine motor development, or, manual dexterity. Boys, of course, will continue running, biking, and playing on their own and participating in organized sports. However, quiet time activities are tending to be spent more with home computers and hand held electronic devices for entertainment than with tactile, constructive activities.
A major change in boys’ dwindling choices of tactile project pastimes is the disappearing hobby of model building. In the past, building plastic and wooden model planes, cars, ships, etc. was practiced at some time in the life of the majority of boys, along with assembling and painting other kinds of kits like soldiers, or board game pieces. Scratch- building with scraps of wood and junk with a few hand tools have also long been a part of growing up.
Hobby shops have almost disappeared along with their plastic models - a ubiquitous product once regularly found in drugstores, hardware stores, and even grocery stores. In my art room I have a list of free choice activities for students to do at lunchtime or between assignments. Along with free painting, scrap work, and other crafts, the direction to “Bring and construct a plastic model…” results in the question, “What’s that?” Only one boy has assembled a plastic model kit in my art room during the last twelve years.
The closest things to the traditional hobby shop are large stores like Lobby Hobby, Michael’s and Jo-ann’s. The clientele is mostly female because areas of male interests cover a relatively small niche in these stores which sell fabric, scrapbooking, flower arranging supplies, and such.
Girls, thankfully, continue to be interested in and practice fine motor skills with personal activities like hair braiding, nail painting, and makeup application, as well as with hobbies like drawing, painting, beading, and decorating almost any surface.
With so much emphasis on attaining academic excellence on standardized tests and the growing use of electronic media in most subjects, opportunities for students to develop fine motor, eye-hand coordination by manipulating craft materials outside the art room are becoming fewer as teachers of other subjects are pressed for time. Additionally, lack of art supply money and/ or the avoidance of messes made are other factors.
Will it become just a girl thing to practice small motor skills tasks in their formative years so that the majority of American students who exit high school with capable manual dexterity in the future will be predominately females? If so, then surgery, electrical work, and baiting a hook will be mostly “girlie” activities. Will Nano engineers and Nano technicians become job categories for females only? How about female dentists only?
something to think about.