Primary school children can’t use a knife and fork
Some children are making it halfway through primary school without learning how to use a knife and fork, with one school principal warning that the lack of table manners could even affect their grades.
Abbotsford Public School headmistress Chris Johnson has written to parents asking them to teach their children to use eating utensils, a skill she believes would boost their handwriting skills.
"We eat a lot of our food with fingers and hands nowadays and many get to (school) camp and do not know how to use utensils," Ms Johnson wrote.
"To help your child at home, small activities which help strengthen wrist action and promote finger dexterity would be helpful (like teaching) your child to use a knife and fork to eat."
The missive to parents sent out last week is part of the school's much larger goal of lifting literacy scores.
"There is a compelling reason why we are going back to the basics and that is the research between reading development and handwriting," Ms Johnstone wrote.
"Students who have difficulty with handwriting spend most of their energy directed towards the motor process rather than thinking creatively or developing their ideas."
The handwriting push has been backed by University of Technology Sydney literacy expert Dr Katherine Bates, who said schools had sidelined pen and paper in favour of technology.
"We have children on games, pressing buttons, we have lost this skill of handwriting," Dr Bates said.
"There is a whole movement around moving out the desks and putting in lounge chairs and getting students to write on screens and changing the physical classroom environment - which is not conducive to good posture and teaching skills in handwriting.
"There is a whole lot of work that needs to be done, it is appalling we have children coming to Year 5 and they can't hold a knife and fork."
Etiquette boot camp coach Treska Roden was less surprised by the children's inability to hold cutlery.
"When I teach at the high schools … they do need a lot of help with table manners," Ms Roden said.
"There are a lot of things parents do have to focus on and probably table manners has gone by the wayside."
Randwick mum Anya Haywood said she believed table manners had both social and physical benefits for her nine-year-old daughter Lola Warner.
"It is really important to use cutlery from a co-ordination perspective," she said.
"Pencil grip, using the fork, using the knife - it is all fine motor skills."
Abbotsford Public School's push to boost literacy comes on the back of appalling Program for International Assessment results which found that NSW students had slipped faster than any other state in Australia.
English Teachers' Association NSW executive officer Eva Gold commended the principal's focus on handwriting despite moves to testing online. "I think students do need to use handwriting and they need to use it broadly and liberally for the cognitive and the fine motor skills it brings," she said.