National Handwriting Day is Here!
by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L
January 23 is National Handwriting Day!
There’s been quite a bit of debate recently about the value of including a structured handwriting program, especially cursive, in our students’ daily schedule. While cursive has been given the most attention, I have found, as an Occupational Therapist who specializes in handwriting skills, that handwriting instruction in general has taken a giant leap backward in importance relative to that of the other subject areas. Yes, handwriting IS a subject area. It is not an extracurricular activity. While we might loudly discuss whether or not the mastery of cursive is necessary to be able to read a letter from grandmom, manuscript in general has been given a bad rap as keyboarding takes center stage in our children’s educational and social arenas.
Well, mastering the ability to write efficiently and effectively with a pen, pencil, crayon, or marker goes beyond caring whether or not Grandmom can be convinced to send e-cards. It “speaks” to the important role that handwriting mastery plays in the development of young brains and the educational success of our children. Printing practice improves automatic letter recognition, which has been noted as “a necessary prerequisite for later decoding of unfamiliar print.” (1) Studies have shown that knowledge of the “alphabet at kindergarten entry is a strong predictor of reading during first grade.” (2)
The benefits of handwriting mastery extend past a pretty signature. Hidden in the learning of printing or cursive are the underlying skills needed to read and write:
– recognizing letters, recalling them correctly and consistently, and connecting them efficiently in order to create a word.
– scanning, tracking, and accommodation.
Fluid handwriting is automatic, allowing the writer to push the pencil along and record thoughts without having to concentrate on the formation of letters, or words for that matter. Writing is one of the primary ways that teachers evaluate a student’s learning. And as he progresses through the grades, the volume and complexity of reading and writing gathers speed. If he has poor reading and writing skills, he is most likely to be “left behind.”
The argument is being made, as we speak, that computers will fix all of this handwriting “mumbojumbo.” Each student will receive an electronic device as they enter Kindergarten (preschool, maybe!) and then no one will ever have to utter the word “handwriting” again! I think we’ve forgotten that handwriting is a cognitive, visual-motor, and sensory experience. (3) It involves more areas of the brain than any other activity, barring speech.
University of Washington professor, Virginia Berninger, (4) reported study results revealing that keyboarding isn’t as effective as handwriting in producing efficient “transcription” skills. Transcription is a “basic cognitive process involved in writing that enables a writer to translate thoughts or ideas into written language.” Handwriting, as well as spelling, is a transcription process. Keyboarding doesn’t provide the essential visual-motor involvement that comes from engaging the hand in forming letters. Berninger also reported that brain imaging showed that sequencing the fingers during handwriting may engage the thinking processes for children.
For some students, handwriting is a piece of cake. It just “comes to them.” For others, they require special accommodations in order make it happen. And sometimes those accommodations come in the form of a computer. Sandwiched in between these two groups are the children that need just a bit of help. They don’t “just get it” but they don’t qualify for services, either. But without some additional attention, they will find themselves falling further and further behind in their schoolwork because handwriting skills are utilized across the subject areas. For those children, it is important to get a Handwriting Assessment to determine the level of remediation that he will need to master handwriting.
So often, the children who are struggling with handwriting will try to tell us they need help by saying, “I don’t like handwriting!”
Instead, let’s take a look at some fun ideas for encouraging the development of handwriting skills that have been shared on the internet:
1. Finger and Hand Strengthening:
2. Creative Expression:
4. Visual-Motor, Visual-Perceptual, Core Strength:
5. Community Involvement:
8. ‘Handy” Resources:
Education.com provides free, downloadable worksheets that focus on letters (printed and cursive) with creative ideas for building hand strength, coordination, and cognitive skills.
Teachers Pay Teachers offers downloads, some for free and some for a fee, that span the subject areas. They include creative writing activities that can enhance handwriting skills.
John Hancock would have been 272 years old this year. His signature was so distinctive that we still say, “Put your John Hancock here.” Wouldn’t it be nice if someday people were using your child’s name? I have to admit, “Put your Katherine Collmer here” has a certain ring to it!
I hope you’ve found some useful information here that with help your children to enjoy handwriting for the rest of their lives!
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine. Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
(2) Snow, Catherine E., M. Susan Burns, and Peg Griffin. “Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children.” Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. National Academy Press, n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2015. <http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/reading/>.