Failure to Teach Handwriting Fails our Kids
By: Holly Britton
In a casual conversation with someone who happened to be an occupational therapist, I described my reasoning for designing the Squiggle Squad resources for handwriting instruction. She looked at me wide-eyed and said, “You know, so many of the kids that teachers send to me for remedial intervention, are not developmentally incompetent; they simply have never been explicitly taught how to write letters.”
I run into this time and time again as I discuss handwriting instruction in the classroom with teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and students themselves. Teachers of older kids lament that their students reach their class unable to write; paraprofessionals propose that many of the problems they see with kids’ writing can be helped in the classroom; parents wonder why their children are struggling; and students themselves express frustration in a variety of ways including indifference, reluctance, or refusal to do the task altogether.
In a 2017 research article titled “Does handwriting instruction have a place in the instructional day?,” the study’s authors write that in their state (as in others), “first grade students are expected to demonstrate foundational skills for proficiency in handwriting by accurately including written conventions of identifying and forming upper- and lower-case letters using left-to-right and top-to-bottom progressions, incorporating spacing between words and sentences, and using readable punctuation marks” (emphasis mine). The article goes on to say, that regardless of these expectations, “explicit handwriting instructional time is not required, and districts are free to determine how students will meet mastery. As a result, some students struggle with composition, literacy, and math skills that rely on them being expected to follow handwriting conventions to create legible letters, punctuation marks, and numbers.” (McCarroll & Fletcher, Cogent Education (2017), 4: 1386427 cited below)
Expecting children to jump an academic chasm without throwing them a rope or teaching them to jump is not only irresponsible, it is cruel. Adults from every angle press kids to reach higher and higher academic bars with a blatant disregard of basic biology. Brains and bodies go through biological processes that we cannot consciously control. Parents and teachers cannot force them, and no technology can alter the speed or timeframe at which a child reaches them. Certainly, a child cannot control them. And yet, we are trying to push baby bodies to places they are not able to go and punishing them for not meeting our demands.
We have lost sight of the fact that handwriting does not just happen in a child’s development the same way walking and talking happens. And, by not training them in this foundational academic skill, we are neglecting to give kids a necessary tool for developing reason and expressing thought.
Hope McCarroll & Tina Fletcher | (2017) Does handwriting instruction have a place in the instructional day? The relationship between handwriting quality and academic success, Cogent Education, 4:1, 1386427, https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186X.2017.1386427