I have been an educator for 12 years and I’m often asked by my kindergarten parents the following questions:
- Why do you spend so much time teaching handwriting?
- Why is the stroke of the letter so important…isn’t it the end result that matters?
- We have computers now…isn’t handwriting going to be obsolete?
I didn’t think they were hard questions to answer. All I could say was that I’ve observed many 5 year olds writing their letters and have found that when they learn to write their letters from the top lines and use the proper strokes and pencil grip, they write faster and they finish their work on time. These children often don’t become frustrated because they have fluidity in the way they write. I wanted, however, some research-based answers to really understand why it is so important. I found a few wonderful websites that pertain to this topic.
I firmly believe that handwriting is a building block to learning. Research has shown a direct correlation between handwriting, spelling, reading, comprehension, math, and self esteem. Research shows that when children learn to make the correct formation of the letter, that the sequential movement allows for direct connection to other letters. They begin to associate letters to one another, which improves on speed while writing and allows them to associate and learn letters more quickly. When all the letters are made in the same way, it takes less time and brain effort to figure out how to make the letter. The child then, will begin to focus on the words and then later sentences, which then leads to reading, comprehension, and self-esteem. Handwriting should be mechanical and automatic so as to not hinder the writing and learning process. When children learn the same movement it becomes muscle memory. When we have muscle memory, we don’t even think about what we are doing. I compare it to typing on a computer, or mastering a musical instrument. You don’t even think about it. It’s a natural process.
Let’s take a look at the lower case a, c, d, g, o, and q. These letters are all made by a leftward stroke touching the middle line. Imagine if you were a 5 year old and made the “o” counter clockwise starting from the bottom line, the “a” you made clockwise and put a stick on it, the “d” starting from the bottom line and did two loops then went to the top line. See how confusing that can be? Now think of it like this…. I often tell my 5 year olds, “Let’s play, “trick the teacher”. Let’s pretend we are going to make a “c”…now keep going and turn it into an “a”…just kidding…don’t lift your pencil let’s make a “d”. See how all those letters are made with the same beginning stroke? You can make letters into letters! See the connections a little brain would have? It would be organized rather than disorganized. Organization is key to the learning process.
In my research I also found that handwriting is also directly correlated to math, as math is also sequential, organized, patterned, and rhythmic. It’s important to develop good writing habits at a young age, as we all know, “bad habits are hard to break.” I also stress with my classroom parents how handwriting for kindergarten is more about “quality” than “quantity”. In other words, I’d rather have three letter “k’s” written correctly, than twenty “k’s” written incorrectly. Writing the letter incorrectly over and over is only practicing and reinforcing the bad habit. Finally, computers are becoming a big part of the future of education, but students still need to jot down notes quickly, write letters to others, and are required to write on standardized tests. Research shows that students that write more legibly actually score higher than those students that had the exact same content, but were less legible.
So now hopefully you can answer the question, “What’s the big deal about handwriting?” Investing a little time now to teach your child the correct handwriting skills will have lasting effects.
— Mrs. Novak
Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy