Contributed by: Julia Paykin
Q: Handwriting is truly becoming an obsolete skill. In our digitized era and the world moving towards online learning faster than ever, investing into handwriting is a waste. Right?
A: Wrong. Teaching handwriting at early stages of elementary schooling is invaluable. The process of learning handwriting is an easy, affordable, universal way to stimulate rapidly developing parts of a child’s brain. Have you ever observed a pre-schooler labouring tirelessly over tracing some words with their tongue stuck out? Why would you think it is such an intense task for them? Handwriting and tracing stimulate and balance right and left-brain hemispheres.
Q: Then teaching writing, letter formation and tracing, would be valuable at a younger age. If there are so many benefits to it, why wait? Age three would be perfect, right?
A: Wrong, however a lot of resources now point to a different direction. There are a lot of things that precede writing and predict whether children are ready to start. Do they know how to squish play dough? Have they ever made and enjoyed making cookies? Do they trace with their fingers? Do they thread beads? Without all these skills preceding the actual act of working with pen or pencil, children will view writing as one big, scary, onerous task.
Q: Does pencil grip truly matter? Should it be taught and most importantly, can a wrong pencil grip be fixed?
A: Pencil grip is important and should be taught. In practice, ironically, the earlier children get introduced to writing, the worse their pencil grip might be. They would just grab it the way that feels comfortable at that stage of development and get used to it eventually. Children should have had plenty of opportunities for early fine-motor development activities prior to grabbing a pencil for writing.
Children who hold a pencil in an unorthodox way put strain on the hand muscle which initially was not supposed to be worked that way. As a result, some children might be reluctant writers because writing feels strenuous and tiring. However, in our practice we have come to meet a number of students with very unusual pencil grips who have adapted to it and become great writers.
Q: My preschooler, and now a schooler, has resisted copying and writing forever. No amount of persuasion can make him sit down with paper and pencil. Can writing be delayed and by how much?
A: In our practice, we have seen children who only started to write around the age of eight and are now successful, accomplished writers. Yes, writing can be delayed and substituted with fine-motor activities up until the child is ready. In fact, in countries where writing is deliberately delayed up until seven or eight years of age, students become more confident, independent writers. This might probably be connected to the fact of how they perceive writing. No one would resist a task that is manageable, enjoyable, and fun to engage in, correct?
Q: Ok, we are clear with early handwriting skills. Would you say that spelling nowadays is a heavily overestimated skill, with Grammarly and spell checks dominating our world. Yes?
A: The process of learning how to spell correctly trains a child’s brain immensely. First, it is tolerance of “I am not perfect, I make mistakes and it’s not a big deal.” To be able to create a piece of writing, receive feedback, and work on creating a good copy with teacher/adult corrections is an invaluable skill. Furthermore, getting used to the way correct spelling looks like is bound to improve students’ independent spelling eventually. Then, how many times have you seen older students glaring at the number of options available on spellchecks, not knowing which one to choose? And finally, what about a frequent requirement to submit handwritten notes all the way through high school and sometimes universities?
Q: Going into older grades and eventually post-secondary education, what are your thoughts on the process of writing?
A: I am here to say that regrettably, it is becoming obsolete. But before ditching your notepads along with a selection of gel pens, there are a few things to keep in mind. Research is clear. The process of writing slows you down, eventually making you retain information much longer. It offers distraction-free learning. It always develops your neural activity, regardless of age. And handwriting is like meditation. Why not find a quiet corner, pencil and paper and get started?