Handwriting is still a very important skill for your child to master.
Junior classrooms used to spend lots of time on handwriting skills, but not now. Handwriting is still being taught, just not as often and not as systematically as in the old days, and there are many reasons for the present lack of formal handwriting lessons which this article won’t go into. You might be pleased that boring old handwriting drills have mainly gone. I know that I was at first. I used to hate teaching it and hate learning how to as a child.
However, handwriting skills – or how your child holds his or her pencil and which direction they form their letters in – is still extremely important. Because of the lack of systematic teaching and correction of individual student’s handwriting errors, many children and young adults now hold their pencils or pens as though they are still four years old. Many form their letters awkwardly, often starting from the bottom up, or lifting their pencil off the page to complete a letter, or forming the letter shape going in the wrong direction.
If you watch your child’s handwriting skills as they write you may notice one or more of the following:
- Your child may have to move their whole hand to write instead of just moving their fingers to write. This makes handwriting much more laborious and tiring. One of the reasons for your child writing with their whole hand instead of just moving their fingers is that they might have a clumsy looking handwriting grip on their pen. Instead of the thumb and 1st finger forming a pincer grip with the 3rd finger underneath the pencil supporting the pencil they might have a fist grip whereby several fingers hold the pencil or they hold it awkwardly.
- Your child may write some letters from the bottom up which slows writing down and makes it more difficult to remember how to form the ‘b’ and ‘d’ for the most obvious example.
- Your child may not remember numbers and letters easily and may reverse some numbers, such as ‘5’ and ‘7’. This may happen because they begin forming numbers and letters from the wrong place on a page and then proceed in the wrong direction.
You might be thinking that handwriting is no longer important because we have easily accessible keyboards in most classrooms now and writing using the computer keyboard is the way of the future. Up to a point – of course that seems correct at the moment. However, there is a little more to being able to hand-write correctly. The act of writing new information down helps us process it better. As well as handwriting practice helping your child more easily remember and correctly shape letters and numbers, some recent research connects handwriting to how well both children and adults can remember what we are learning.The act of physically writing down the new knowledge helps your children remember it more easily.
Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory-the system for temporarily storing and managing information. And one recent study of hers demonstrated that in grades two, four and six, children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.(The Wall Street Journal, business section, 5 October, 2010).
So my suggestion is that before labeling your child dyslexic or learning disabled, or just plain slow, take time to practise handwriting skills with your child. Often simply regularly practising the recognition and writing of letters and numbers at home for 10 minutes a day will improve most children’s handwriting skills as well as their letter and number recognition in a few weeks.
- Set goals with your child about what they want to do better.
- Agree to a time you will both work together on handwriting.
- Stay consistently gentle and firm with your child.
- Use all the senses when coaching them how to write a letter or number: Show them and talk them through how to write the letter or number. Hold their hand to help them form the letter in the air and when writing on paper. Say something simple and catchy about how to form the letter. For example ‘d’ is formed by saying, “around up and down”. ‘b’ is formed by saying,”down up and around.”
- Help them with finding the correct direction of numbers and letters. You can draw a sun in the right hand corner of the page and talk about which ever letter or number you are learning has its back or face towards the sun.
- Take it carefully and slowly with them. Only learn a few letters and numbers a day, then revise them until you really believe they have mastered them.
If you have any questions please contact me. Who knows, your question might help me write my next article.