Numerous studies have found that proper, early handwriting instruction not only improves legibility, it also improves the quantity and quality of children’s writing. When children develop fluent, legible handwriting, they can better focus on generating and organizing ideas. The best way to develop this legibility is through carefully planned, explicit handwriting instruction.
155 kindergarten and 1st grade students received weekly drawing lessons from Wendy Halperin for one school year. Compared to a control group, the researchers found that participating students demonstrated better legibility, correct use of lower-case letters and fewer erasures. Teachers reported that students developed greater focus and observation skills. Additionally, parents noticed that their child’s confidence level grew not only with writing but in a willingness to try new tasks.
Writing freehand is more than a way to communicate. The skill of writing can improve idea composition, expression and fine motor skill development. According to Dr. Karin James, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, “It seems there is something really important about manipulating and drawing out 2D things we see all the time”.
A review of research from the past decade has drawn a clear connection between fine motor skill development in early life and future success in math, science and reading. Indeed, when attention, fine motor skills and general knowledge are grouped together, they are much stronger predictors for later math, reading and science achievement than early math and reading scores alone.
In a study comparing children who physically form letters on a page with those who watch others writing a letter, Dr. Karin James, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, observed that the actual effort of writing engages the brain’s motor pathways. An MRI scan showed that 3 areas of the brain were activated when looking at letters formed by freehand, while those who looked at someone else’s previously constructed letter had significantly weaker brain activation.
Despite growing popularity, using laptops for note taking may do more harm than good. Three studies examined the learning effects of typing classroom lecture notes on a laptop versus using written, longhand note taking for college students. The studies found that using laptops for note taking, even when controlled for the potential distractions they may cause, resulted in shallower processing by students. Students who wrote notes by hand better processed information, reframing it into their own words and, thus, performed higher on classroom tests.
Twenty-five years ago pediatric Occupational Therapists primarily worked with children with severe disabilities. Today, in many affluent areas, plenty of able bodied children are receiving OT services to strengthen hand muscles, learn how to hold a pencil and help children write more legibly.
This opinion piece argues that it’s important for young students to be able to read and understand handwriting. While teaching handwriting and cursive skills seemed to have fallen out of favor in recent years, more states are beginning to re-emphasize cursive and the art of penmanship. The authors cite the increasing evidence that handwriting plays an important foundational role in early education.
Volume 145, No. 3, pp. 298–313
This study investigated why handwriting helps letter learning in children. Seventy-two 5-year old children were measured on a categorization task across six different types of learning conditions. Results demonstrated that children who experienced a greater variety of examples while learning, performed better on the recognition task. “Our results suggest that letter categorization ability would be enhanced with increased handwriting practice and/or learning multiple examples of letters in various ways.”
Volume 15, No. 1, pp. 97-118
In this review of the literature on handwriting and its place in early childhood education, Dr. Laura Dinehart with the Department of Teaching and Learning at Florida International University, clearly demonstrates the link between handwriting and academic achievement. Even in this increasingly digital age, fine motor writing skills and handwriting readiness are very important for children entering school. Such readiness can be “critical to improving academic skills in the long run.” Dr. Dinehart calls upon educators “to develop and implement programmes (sic) they know to be best practice when teaching early handwriting or handwriting ‘readiness’ skills.”
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