In the past few days you may well have scribbled out a shopping list on a scrap of paper, written a reminder on a post-it note on your desk, added a comment in your child’s school diary or made a few quick notes during a meeting. However, there is still much debate around the importance of handwriting when there are so many technological alternatives. Ever since writing was first invented, probably around 4000BC, the tools and media used for writing have changed many times and it may seem that allowing handwriting to disappear and keyboards and dictating software take over is of little concern. However, research into handwriting indicates that this may not be the case.
Handwriting is a complex task which requires many spatial and fine motor skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement and directing movement by thought. In contrast, on a computer every letter is formed the same way – by pressing the correct key. Clearly there are cognitive implications here for the way the brain develops.
Furthermore neuroscientists have investigated the link between reading and handwriting. In a study on children aged three to five, those that learned to write letters by hand were better at recognising them than the group that learned to type them on a computer. Similar results were found in adults teaching them Bengali or Tamil characters. It appears that drawing each letter by hand improves our grasp of the alphabet because we really have a ‘body memory’.
Another study found that patients who had lost reading ability after a stroke were helped to remember the alphabet again by tracing the letters with their fingers. It appears that the gesture restored the memory of the letter. One can therefore argue that learning to write by hand does seem to play an important part in reading and with joined-up writing children learn words as blocks of letters, which has been shown to help with spelling – important for a language where spelling is
At Springmead we have been reviewing the way we teach handwriting and will be introducing a new teaching approach and style to children in Hedgehogs, Rabbits, Otters and Badgers. As handwriting is a motor skill, it takes time for it to become automatic and much practice is required. There is much that can be carried out at home to help with the underlying skills required. Here are a few ideas you may like to try.
Enjoy mark making
Encourage this in any way possible. Use twigs to draw in sand or in mud. Use crayons or paint on large paper. Use spare wallpaper to create massive pieces of paper they can draw on.
Circles and straight lines
Every letter of the alphabet is made up of a circle or a straight line. You can help develop your child’s skills by copying shapes or tracing around kitchen objects. Draw around wooden spoons, cookie cutters or saucepans.
Big play is great
To be able to control a pencil your child will need shoulder strength. Big play such as climbing or crawling will do this.
Tiny play is great
Picking up small objects helps develop the pincer grip needed for holding a pencil. Playing tiddlywinks, building with Lego, opening and closing clothes pegs will all help develop strength and coordination.
Copy shapes and patterns
Copying shapes is just as important as writing letters and helps children notice differences. Draw spirals, circles, continuous mmmm, squares. Have fun creating a doodle picture.
Maze puzzles and dot-to-dot puzzles
These are great at helping develop eye-hand coordination skills as well as pencil control and accuracy.
This encourages children to write with smaller letters to fit in the boxes.