Handwriting: An Indispensable Learning Tool

September 22, 2022
Written by:
Guest Author

What comes to mind when you hear “handwriting?” No doubt many of you think of cursive instruction or the meticulous script of historical documents. When I tell someone that I design curriculum to help children learn handwriting, I wonder if my listener thinks I am trying to turn back time to the days of quill and ink. I am quick to right the inevitable assumptions that I am talking about perfect penmanship or insisting everyone learn cursive. An inundation of computer technologies, including personal cell phones and tablets, might lead many to conclude that teaching kids to write by hand is low priority, if not obsolete. Indeed, many teachers across the nation have abandoned handwriting instruction in all its forms, cursive or otherwise. Neglecting to address this issue is likely contributing to our nation’s dismal writing and reading literacy rates. Parents teaching from home can play a valuable role in helping their children learn how to write and in doing so will be imparting to them an indispensable learning tool.

Why Teach Handwriting?

So, if beautiful lettering is not the goal of handwriting instruction, what is? Research about writing, as well as anecdotal evidence, reveals that learning to write by hand uniquely improves reading, thinking, and communicating—all reasons to reconsider handwriting as an effective teaching strategy and important life skill. Writing by hand has an almost magical way of tapping into the hidden recesses of the brain, helping us retrieve important bits of information. Many people, maybe even yourself, assert that writing by hand helps them create, problem-solve, or clarify their thinking. Many professional authors claim they think better when they write by hand. Because handwriting helps the brain process in special ways, it is imperative we impart the skill to our students.

Handwriting Is a Motor Skill

Through play and adult interaction, young children begin gaining control of their large and small muscles. The process is natural and is aided by parents and teachers who encourage them to try new things. Large motor exercises (such as running and climbing) and activities that require smaller muscle movements (such as pinching, cutting, sorting, pushing, and pulling) improve motor control and ready little learners for handwriting. Squishing playdough, building sand castles, and pushing toy cars strengthen muscles. Use of a paintbrush, crayons, and chalk delight the child as they begin to recognize that their actions can produce marks on paper. A child’s ability to control a writing implement develops little by little. Incorporating play into your child’s school day will help them physically and academically in all areas of learning, including handwriting.

Letters Are Shapes

While the child is developing motor control, they are simultaneously hearing stories from books, seeing pictures, and being exposed to print on paper. The understanding that pictures represent things (i.e., an animal, a fire truck, a house) comes very early in a child’s development, but the ability to recognize that letters represent sounds takes a little longer. Naming shapes such as circles and squares are fairly straightforward to most parents, but perhaps something not-so-obvious is that when you teach the letters of the alphabet you are basically teaching them to recognize and name a shape, what is to them a picture. Their little minds are able to do this at a young age, typically between three and five years old.

Developmentally Appropriate Approach

We want our children to learn, but, moreover, we want them to take joy in the learning process. One way to nurture a love of learning is to make sure that instructional methods and resources are developmentally appropriate—that they meet the child where they are at.

When it comes to handwriting, Squiggle Squad resources present an approach to handwriting instruction that takes into account both the physiological and cognitive development of the child. The methodology emphasizes the incremental steps leading up to the formation of letters and numbers and uses playful animal friends to give little learners enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding ways to learn to handwrite.

Very young children (ages three to five) are developmentally ready to trace “pathways” on the Squiggle Squad playsheets and eventually begin tracing the individual strokes related to letter and number formation each represented by a member of the Squiggle Squad. When they show adequate control of their finger on paper, kids are ready to trace using a crayon or marker. (At this stage, fatter writing implements are easier for little hands to hold, and precision is still lacking.)

As the child grows, he or she will learn to properly hold and manipulate a pencil (typically around the age of five). At this point, Squiggle Squad handwriting playsheets guide children in pencil control activities that introduce directionality related to the movements eventually used to make letters. This gives the child lots of motor skill practice without the added expectation of understanding the significance of letters or numbers.

Eventually, the Squiggle Squad animal friends “play” together to show the child how to make the letter and number shapes, at which point pencil control has become much easier for the new writer, making learning letters less frustrating than it may otherwise have been.

Give Them The Gift Of Handwriting

Given that we live in a digitized world, it’s important we rethink the purposes and benefits of knowing how to write by hand. Even though our dependency on handwriting as a mode of writing is not the same as yesteryear, failure to teach our children to handwrite will cripple their learning efforts. We who use handwriting regularly for the simplest tasks to the most complicated problem-solving should not take for granted the fact that we were taught handwriting by someone. Your mindful intention to teach your child to write by hand will help them along their learning journey and bring them—and those around them—a lifetime of untold benefits.

More about the Author Holly Britton. The Squiggle Squad’s program designer, Holly Britton, M.Ed., is a curriculum and instruction specialist with teaching experience in all grades K-8. She is an author and conference speaker and a former home educator of four now-adult children. Holly brings over 22 years of private and public education experience to this program. Holly relishes time with her friends and family including her horse, Shasta.

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