More From Madeleine Portwood

[BPSDB] I was lurking on the bad science forum again today (been off work with a stinker of a cold) and found a link to this, a claim that children are not developing their physical co-ordination as rapidly as they used to.

Now, I am not a developmental psychologist but a couple of things in this set off my woodar. First, it is not peer-reviewed research but a conference presentation – always a bad sign. Secondly, it was presented by Madeleine Portwood of Durham fish-oil trial initiative fame. Now just because she’s been involved with one piece of rubbish research does not mean anything she touches turns to dross, so let’s have a look at the claims.

It is claimed that around 30% of five year olds (up from 10% a decade ago) do not know in which hand they should hold a pencil. Matthew Moore, the journalist who wrote the article, may be oversimplifying the data here but as far as I am aware, there is no hand one “should” use for writing; the important point is surely how well the children can draw or write with whichever hand they choose to use and we are not told this.

Moore then goes on: “The disclosure added to fears that children are developing more slowly than in the past, leaving them unable to cope with routine tasks like peeling potatoes as they grow older.”

What fears? Do I detect the birth of another spurious health scare? And how does he get from being ambidextrous (which is what being unable to decide which hand to use amounts to) at age five to being unable to peel spuds in later life?

Portwood is quoted as saying: “More and more children are not going through the crawling stage. They shuffle along on their bottoms and find a chair, a table or curtains and use their arms to pull up to a standing position,” No evidence is offered for this, nor for the implication that this means of moving around leads to confusion over handedness when children start school.

Finally, we are told that “Mrs Portwood’s previous research has shown that 57 per cent of three-year-olds are unable to carry out tasks expected of their age. Young children are spending too much time watching television and not enough time interacting with objects with their hands, experts believe.”

No link is provided to this research. I would like to see some evidence, not be told it is true because experts “believe” it to be so.




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9 Responses to “More From Madeleine Portwood”

  1. pv Says:

    Just recently been teaching pv junior to peel potatoes. He’s ten years old and he decided he’d like to try. I’d never thought about whether it was late, early or just on time and frankly I don’t care as long as my son can fend for himself when he grows up.
    On thinking about it though, is peeling potatoes a routine task any more in the UK where culinary genius seems to be more about taking the packaging off and chucking whatever into the microwave?

  2. lavendrmakesmequeasy Says:

    My daugher didn’t crawl. She was always determined to stand, and put all her efforts into walking, which she did at the end of 9m of age.

    A number of people told me that this was a cause for concern and in fact one relative who worked as a learning support teacher for children with special needs told me that she wouldn’t be at all surprised if my DD turned out to be dyslexic.

    This was upsetting, partly becuase i wasn’t sure that any of them knew their ass from their elbow in terms of good child development research, and also because it was my darling daughter.

    I did a *rudimentary* search on databases i had access to and quickly realised that crawling (absence of, or delay of) is not shown to be a causative factor for later problems. It can however form part of a diagnostic pattern if other key milestones are also delayed or absent.

    As it turns out she was early on everything else, has a reading level 4-5 years above her age, and tests in the highly “gifted” category (i hate that word). She was fairly uncoordinated for a while and less able at some physical tasks/skills. This is improving with normal kid stuff – bike riding, tree climinb, ballet lessons, swimming etc.

    Obviously sitting kids in front of the tele for hours at a time, is not going to develop physical corodination but by gum, there’s a lot of rubbish talked about some child development stuff, and some particular rubbish around crawling.

    sorry for rant.

  3. jaycueaitch Says:

    pv, we still peel spuds in this household. Can’t speak for the rest of the country.

    lavendermakesmequeasy: my younger brother as a baby chose the method of propulsion Portwood condemns. Didn’t seem to affect his subsequent development at all. It would appear that she has a one size fits all model of child development and assumes there’s something wrong with a child who does not fit that model.

  4. dvnutrix Says:

    It looks like it was an update of work reported in 2004 but it can’t be assessed without publication in a more formal arena.

    Portwood’s presentation at SEN 2008 (pdf) is the one in question but it is difficult to tell without the notes that would make so much more sense of these slides. There is a list of references at the end but no recent papers: there is a mention of what looks to be an upcoming chapter in a handbook.
    Portwood M; Movement difficulties in the early years – a planned
    programme of support in The Dyslexia Handbook 2008/9: British
    Dyslexia Association

    [Sorry if this is a duplicate, I posted this on Friday but it doesn’t seem to have got through.]

  5. Ian H Says:

    As a teacher I’ve often heard the idea that ‘bottom-shufflers’ are likely to end up dyslexic; I suspect this is due to the fact that it is one (of many) indicators that a child may suffer from dyspraxia. Of the three ‘experts’ who put forward this view, two also recommended Brain Gym, so that perhaps puts thier POV into perspective.

    From a personal point of view, our eldest (just 4) seems vaguely right handed but I never thought I had to worry about it. His pictures are more or less recognisable – about as good as mine are now, to be honest – and I figured we were doing the right thing by just letting him get on with it. He does lots of hand-motor skills activities without major difficulty (crafty stuff, threading, Lego, chopping veg, making cookies) so I think I’ll assume he’ll manage okay with the real world… a place that Madelaine seems only to visit occasionally

  6. A Year of Steam « Letting Off Steam Says:

    […] of the officers involved in the saga, Madeleine Portwood featured in her very own blogpost about her claims that children are not developing as fast as they used to. Frankly, these claims do […]

  7. ian worley Says:

    I do not know Ms Portwood personally and am not a psychologist, but I do spend a lot of time teaching children. One thing is certain, there are a lot of children in UK who can’t read/write properly despite lots of teaching styles and many allegedly’groundbreaking’ methods. Until someone can crack the ‘language’ problem we will need to look into, research and trial many differing ideas – some of which may seem unusual. I’d prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt until she is proven wrong. No harm can come worse than is happening already. It will take many years before a proper peer review can be conducted.

  8. Sam Says:

    For the record, ambidextrous means being equally adept at using both the left and right hands. In other words, one who is ambidextrous can write well with either hand. It does not mean not being able to decide which hand to use. The ambidextrous brain has decided to use both sides and has developed both equally well. The problem with dyspraxic kids (mine at least) is not being able to write well with either hand because his brain has not picked a preference for one side or the other and developed it. I suppose unless you live with a dsypraxic, Portwoods words seem silly to you. For me, it lines up well with my experience.

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