The importance of handwriting

As technology advances at a rapid rate and we rely more on computers and keyboards to create written text, many people have started to question the importance of teaching handwriting in schools. There are many benefits to establishing good handwriting practices in children, especially when it comes to teaching the foundations at primary school level. Even children who enrol in a tried and tested, internationally accredited online school are encouraged to practice their handwriting skills regularly. 

In this article, we will explore some of the benefits associated with teaching handwriting and the importance that handwriting has in education (and life).

Handwriting teaches multitasking

Handwriting is one of the first learning experiences that your child with have with multitasking. To write legibly your child will use their eyes, their arms and their hands while applying the correct pencil grip.  While doing all of this their cognitive recall of letter formation is required.  The application of all these variables is done while maintaining an upright body position which requires strong core muscles.  

The link between fine motor skills and cognitive skills

Evidence shows that a child who masters the required fine motor skills when learning handwriting at primary level develops cognitive skills more quickly. These cognitive skills will lay the foundation for academic success in higher grades.  Writing letters and applying letter recognition assists with the acquisition of reading skills.  Simply put, the better the cognitive skill of letter recognition the better the reader.   

Letter formation and reading skills

Research indicates that forming letters whilst handwriting activates pathways that encourage the child’s nervous system to recognise and motivate the use of reasoning and perception - this is an essential step in developing reading comprehension skills. These pathways and connections are only made when the child is involved with handwriting activities requiring letter recall, not while tracing or typing letters.  

Consequently, substituting the teaching of handwriting with keyboard skills too early in a child’s development will have a detrimental effect on the development of their literacy skills because you are decreasing their ability to recognise and recall letters.  This will impact their writing fluency and, in general, their reading development. To summarise, when a child learns to write by hand they learn to read more quickly.

Handwriting and creativity

When writing by hand, children are better able to generate creative ideas and retain information.  The thought processes required when compiling a handwritten outline or mind map for a creative writing exercise allow the brain time to generate ideas. Writing helps motivate creative juices and supports a logical, organised thought process.  

In one of his articles renowned author, Patrick McClean stated that using pen and paper helps avoid the distractions that result from screens and digital platforms. When typing, individuals tend to focus on editing content as they develop it — which is counterproductive to the creative process. On the other hand, using pen and paper allows children to jot down their creative ideas, fully gather their thoughts and edit their ideas later.

Handwriting and posture

Poor posture and positioning can negatively affect a child’s ability to produce quality written work. The simple first step to ensuring a good posture whilst sitting at a desk is to place both feet flat on the ground. Sitting with legs crossed or one leg lifted and resting on the other creates body imbalance. 

An important factor to consider when creating a workstation for writing at home is body positioning. Poor body positioning can put a strain on the child’s muscles, joints and ligaments.  An unstable posture and body positioning will result in the child using unnecessary energy to maintain stability and balance.  Sitting in a balanced position with good posture increases stability and allows for a solid foundation for the application of the fine motor component of handwriting - grasping the pencil or pen and applying adequate control to use it.   

Having adequate control over a tool in your hand, such as a pencil, requires a stable base.  Having adequate core strength and control of the large shoulder and arm muscles ensures that the child can maintain an upright posture during tabletop tasks and allows for control of the wrist and hand to perform the small movements needed for writing.  

Posture and core strength

So often a child’s poor core strength is overlooked when addressing handwriting skills.  Some signs of poor core strength include:

  1. Resting their head on their non-dominant hand or laying their head or hand on the work surface.
  2. Leaning too far forward or too close to the paper.
  3. Moving around, shifting from side to side or turning and twisting their body.
  4. Slouching in their chair.
  5. Holding the back of the chair or hanging the non-dominant hand beside their body and leaning towards it.
  6. Appearing tired or complaining of fatigue. 

It is vitally important for children to develop the cognitive and fine-motor skills required for successful learning and knowledge retention by developing their handwriting skills. 

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