With the popularity of computers and the increasing use of technology, one may ask why handwriting is still being taught to young children. Well, there are several good reasons why children still need to learn and perfect their handwriting skills. Many good reasons, indeed!
Formal handwriting instruction is no longer being taught in every elementary school, but those that take the time to teach it reap multiple benefits. First, handwriting instruction helps children learn and master alphabet letters – their formation and stroking patterns, their names and even their sounds. By focusing on the shapes of the orthographic letters, children become intimately familiar with the alphabet, and begin to see patterns in the letter shapes. Some have circles, some have half circles, some have hooks, some have long lines and some have short lines. Some hang below the line, while some shoot up above the line. Learning to print reinforces the shapes of the letters, and thus, helps children to memorize them more easily. Second, handwriting instruction assists children in the creative writing process. As children become better at handwriting and their strokes become more automatic, their attention can be freed up for composition. Handwriting can be an overwhelming task for children who have not mastered the stroking techniques necessary for printing. Practice helps to create automaticity that renders the skill to become second nature, allowing the child to focus on the writing content and literary form.
Third, handwriting CAN be overwhelming for many children. The fine motor skills of handwriting are derived from gross motor skills. Arm strength, shoulder stabilization, trunk posture and wrist movements are all dependent upon children’s gross muscle tone and stamina. By learning proper stroking methods and correct posturing, handwriting can be made easier for children who would otherwise struggle with the mechanics of printing.
Fourth, handwriting instruction in printing helps to build a foundation for cursive writing. Learning cursive handwriting makes the writing process exponentially easier when composing longer works, for instance, in middle and high school, and eventually in college.
Finally, learning proper handwriting strokes, from top to bottom and counterclockwise for circles, helps children with fine motor planning when writing. By learning proper stroking, children can write quicker and with more ease, without having to think about each letter they write. Motor memory takes over and streamlines the process.
Overall, handwriting instruction is a prudent investment of time and effort for young children. At age three, children can be engaged in hand strengthening and coordination activities, such as play dough, cutting, coloring with crayons and markers. Adults can make fine motor games with tweezers, tongs, and spoons and loose material, such as beans, beads, rice, and pastina. Preschoolers can also work on strengthening their arm, shoulder, and upper body muscles through easel painting, writing in a standing position on chalk boards and butcher block paper, swimming, and through gross motor games with balls, bean bags, and the like. At about the age of four and a half, children can be taught to write their names with correct stroking. By age five, children should be engaged in formal instruction with the letters of the alphabet and the numerals 1 – 10 or 1 – 20. Instruction in the writing of the alphabet letters should also correspond with the teaching of the letter sounds in preparation for reading, and such instruction will help children internalize the alphabet letters and sounds exponentially. Instruction in the writing of the numerals can correspond with and augment the teaching of number quantities and sequencing.
Handwriting is a valuable tool that can benefit all children in many ways. Make it fun and children will be on their way to better writing in no time.