In the era of ever-advancing technology and computers, it may seem as though handwriting can take a back seat. On the contrary, computer skills and keyboarding- while important- do not replace the need for handwriting entirely, especially for children under 12, for whom handwriting remains faster than keyboarding. Writing remains a critical form of portable communication for note taking, test taking, completion of classroom work and homework, and as prerequisite job skill. When applying to high school, many students are required to fill in an application or write an essay and short answers while waiting for their interview. Additionally, students may be required to write on sections of the SAT and on several SAT II’s. For better or worse, written work continues to be used as a barometer of intelligence.
Poor handwriting can have a wide-spread effect on academic performance. When writing does not come automatically, naturally, and fluidly, it takes extra time and effort to think about forming each letter and word. That time and mental energy would be better spent focusing on the content of the work. Children who struggle with the underlying components of handwriting are often less motivated to write since it is so effortful and time-consuming. They may choose to write answers to questions and essays and write reports that are shorter and lack robust content simply to avoid the physical act and mental strain writing. This is one way in which academic performance is affected by handwriting.
Furthermore, writing is an important foundational skill for reading and spelling. As children learn letter formation, they often learn its basic sound. Research shows that without the automatic recall of letters that is established during writing, spelling and reading may be compromised.
Neat handwriting is also essential for building a child’s confidence in school. For this reason it is critical that good habits are taught explicitly and are not expected to emerge spontaneously. Having children invent their own way of writing at a young age forces their bodies to find the best solution they can to meet the challenge, and those "solutions" are often the source of inefficient writing habits (such as a poor grasp pattern) that persist and ultimately interfere with neat, rapid, efficient handwriting. Direct handwriting instruction in a developmentally appropriate manner is most beneficial because it is difficult to re-teach proper habits in older children who are already set in their ways.
Blog written by Aviva Goldwasser, MS, OTR and Chaye Lamm-Warburg, DPS, OTR, Director POTS