Handwriting: Back to the Future

A person is holding a smartphone in their left hand and drawing a brain on a notepad with their right hand.

By: Holly Britton

Over the last two decades – affecting at least two generations of school kids – explicit instruction of handwriting (both cursive and manuscript) has been pushed aside in the name of progress. Technologies like the personal laptops and cell phones replaced the typewriter and, well, everything smartphones replace. In 2010, as this seismic technological shift was happening, the Common Core State Standards were adopted by many states with new emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math. Pressure was on to move education into the new high-tech era. As a result, teachers in the classroom were (and are) required to deliver more content using unfamiliar means from new curriculum to a growing number of students per classroom than ever before with very little, if any, training. Teachers, as they do, stepped bravely into the challenge.

What does this have to do with handwriting?

In all of the changes, shifts, and readjustments to education, handwriting instruction has been pushed to the back burner… or, more precisely, to the back table where kids are often given a workbook and expected to teach themselves how to form letters and numbers. Talk to teachers of third grade and above, and you likely will hear them lament that their students do not write with ease. In fact, many students -maybe most- “hate” writing. I won’t go into my theories as to why kids don’t like writing or how we might rectify the problem, (that’ll happen in another blog post,) but it is a serious cause for concern.

Handwriting does not come naturally to children. It is a skill that must be taught and developed with practice. The wonderful truth is that it comes fairly quickly and, if done right, becomes so easy that it is like second nature to the writer. This requires parents and teachers to recognize the value of being able to write by hand and effort to coach a child through the process.

Lest you be wondering about simply teaching keyboarding because, after all, kids are on computers all the time: most kids I come across are adept at using a mouse or mouse pad…I have yet to meet a child of any age, K-12, that can use a keyboard to type an essay or their thoughts with efficiency and speed. So, we’re not teaching keyboarding well, either.

Despite the fact that we live in a keyboarding world, people still need to be able to write for school purposes and well beyond. Kids are developmentally ready to write with a pencil before they are ready to learn keyboarding skills, and educational neurologist continue to find that language is better acquired through handwriting rather than through screens and pressing buttons on the keyboard. (Frontiers in Psychology, July 2020) Even if we never wrote by hand after grade school, science (not to mention anecdotal evidence) continues to prove that forming language by hand helps develop language and reasoning skills in ways that keyboarding cannot. (More to come on this, as well.)

Those of us that write by hand often take for granted the skill we were taught. By explicitly and intentionally teaching them how to handwrite, we will be giving the next generation an invaluable, irreplaceable gift.

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