Why Bother with Handwriting?

child writing with a pen on paper

When was the Last Time you Handwrote Something? 

It’s something we seem to do less and less these days.  Here’s a list of the things I handwrite:

  • Session plans and notes during a session
  • To do list
  • Events in my diary/calendar
  • Nightly journal
  • Notes from professional and personal development
  • Development ideas
  • Shopping list
  • Greetings cards

Nearly every one of these is just for my reference and not necessarily for others to read.  I could do most of them on a computer or my phone instead.  Why handwrite anything anymore?!

Handwriting is a really important skill, and is part of the National Curriculum – but is something that is really difficult to fit into the school day.  I know.  I tried and failed to implement handwriting practise into my classrooms more times than I care to admit!  In our over-crowded curriculum, there always seems to be something more important to be teaching, and handwriting lessons always felt a bit “Victorian”.

Why is Handwriting Important?

A child writing on paper with a pencil

Handwriting is a complex skill.  It requires both fine and gross motor skills.  It’s not just about holding a pen, but our posture, hand and arm strength and hand-eye co-ordination. 

Handwriting engages our brains in a different way from when we type on a screen.  Studies have shown that handwriting improves our memory – we are more likely to retain what we have written if we handwrite it instead of typing it.  This is especially useful for learning spellings.  Handwriting them out (you can do this in creative ways) helps us remember them better – our brain is creating neural pathways for how that word is formed each time we physically write it down.  The more we write it, the better we will be able to remember it. 

I personally think that learning to join letters early on helps with this.  We learn how the word “flows” together – the pattern it makes on the paper and how it feels to write it down.  However, whether it is better to join early on or not is still one of the great unanswered questions in education and each school will have its own stance on this issue.

We Still Need to Handwrite

Right through school, children still need to predominantly handwrite.  It does amaze me that in 2022 formal exams are still handwritten – but they are, so the examiner needs to be able to read the writing.  You might have written an amazing answer – but if the examiner (or computer) can’t read it, then you will not get any marks.  Harsh but true.  When I taught Year 6 I spent so much of my time working with them on their handwriting and formation of numbers so that their SATs papers would be legible.  Not my favourite reason for why handwriting is important, but it is a valid reason.

Why do Children Struggle with Handwriting?

Pencil ready to write on lined paper

There could be a range of reasons why, and it will be different for each child.  Problems with handwriting boil down to motor skill difficulties, which most of these issues fit into.  I have come across all of the below and many of the reasons cross-over:

  • Children often say their hand hurts if they handwrite.  This is because they are holding the pen too tightly and/or in an inappropriate grip. 
  • They may also have poor posture or using a table and chair that is the wrong size for them, making writing uncomfortable.
  • They may have coordination issues (we need to be able to know how to place the pen on the paper and move it to form the shapes of letters and words, and follow this with our eyes along the page). 
  • They may never have been taught how to form the letters correctly, or didn’t master this before it stopped being taught.  Schools really struggle to fit in dedicated handwriting practise due to everything else they are asked to fit into 30 hours a week.  The focus definitely gets lost once children move into Key Stage 2.
  • They may not have been encouraged to make marks and experiment with different mark making implements in the Early Years.
  • They may not see others handwriting and therefore do not see its relevance or importance.
  • They can’t read their own writing so become demotivated.
  • They are slow to write because it is difficult and become demotivated.

How to Help Children with their Handwriting

An example of legible joined handwriting on handwriting paper
An example of a child’s legible joined handwriting on handwriting paper following online tuition.

Allow children, especially in the early years (0-5,) to make marks.  Use crayons, pens, paint, chalk or whatever you like.  Make marks on different surfaces, such as chalk on the pavement, or on big rolls of paper.  Use their finger or implements to make marks in a sand tray or shaving foam.  It doesn’t matter what marks they make – they are learning that we can make shapes and use this to communicate ideas and information whilst also developing those motor skills of holding an implement and coordinating their body to make shapes.  The more they do this, the more stamina they will have to continue making marks for longer.

Practise motor skills – throwing and catching a ball, rubbing your tummy and patting your head, rolling a pencil between your fingers, drawing an 8 on its side in the air and following your finger with your eyes. 

Children will be taught how to form letters and words, certainly in Year R, but possibly also in nursery.  Some schools will implement joining early on, others will use print.  What’s important is that children learn that letters have a specific shape and size and are formed in a particular way.  The formation of letters helps us to join them together, making writing quicker and easier.  Check how your child’s school teaches handwriting and practise at home.  You can make it fun and creative using different writing implements and surfaces as above.  Praise effort and attitude.  They will make mistakes and that’s OK – just show them again how to form the letter and try again.  The more they practise the stronger their neural pathways will become and the easier it will get over time.

Give them opportunities to write.  My mum used to tell me her shopping list and I’d write down the items – not only helping my handwriting but also my (pretty atrocious) spelling!  Handwrite thank you letters for birthday and Christmas presents.  Handwrite party invitations and greetings cards.  Handwrite a letter to a grandparent.  Look for opportunities for your child to handwrite something and if it’s for someone else then there is more incentive to work hard on it.

It’s OK to make a draft with mistakes in it and then write it out “in best”, but again, praise effort not perfect writing.

Use spelling practise time to include creative ways to practise handwriting.  Use rainbow writing, wiggle writing, putting the words into sentences or a story to make it a fun and creative activity and not a chore.  And by handwriting the words, the brain is going to be able to remember them better in future.

a child sitting on the floor surrounded by coloured pencils writing in a notebook

Things to Remember About Handwriting

Writing doesn’t have to be perfect all the time, but it does have to be legible.  Not all letters have to be joined together and once children have mastered letter formation and have practised handwriting they will begin to have more stamina, the process will become easier because our brain is now practised at it, and we will eventually form our own handwriting style.

I have successfully improved children’s handwriting via online tuition.  Not only has the child’s writing improved, but so has their confidence and enjoyment of writing as a result.  If I can help your child with their handwriting do get in touch.

Leave a Comment