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Knowing How to Teach Handwriting Matters

Teaching handwriting is critical to your students' academic and social skills development.

Digital tools can't compensate for the skills your students will develop through learning handwriting.

Teachers have various opinions in terms of how to teach handwriting, and in our wired world, many educators question whether we need to formally teach penmanship at all. After all, our children will probably use technology to craft the written word far more often than a pen or pencil. Perhaps, they argue, students' time and efforts would be better spent learning keyboard skills. But like it or not, as adults, we're judged by our handwriting. In fact, Business Insider found handwriting to be one of the top 10 behaviors people first notice in strangers. As educators, it's our duty to prepare students for all aspects of the world, and proper penmanship is one of them.

Know the Benefits of Writing by Hand

I've mentored 10 trainee teachers in my career, and one of those newbies, who was incorrectly modeling letter formation to a group of children, asked me why it mattered. "As long as they produce an A, why does it matter how they do it?" she asked. It matters because correct letter formation flows from one letter to another. This increases a student's writing speed and helps their work stay neat and tidy. Their writing can then be easily read, ensuring that their writing, and message, is understood.

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Practicing handwriting also teaches students that they can visibly improve their work through hard work and perseverance. It shows them that trial and error is OK, and being resilient is the way to go. It even teaches fine motor control as students learn to use certain muscles to correctly hold and deliberately move a pencil.

Prepare for Handwriting with Fun Activities

Handwriting can be developed at a young age and before children have even mastered proper pencil control. Early elementary teachers should plan activities that focus on large movements with the hands and arms. Dance, gross motor development, and Brain Gym activities can lead to the fine muscle control that's needed to correctly hold a pen and form letters. These activities can include messy, play-based explorations with Play-Doh, clay, and paint.

If your students are at the age where they're starting to actually learn penmanship, a kinesthetic activity that's quick to clean up involves covering work surfaces with shaving foam and allowing students to trace letters into the mess. Then it can be wiped away without a trace. If your students are younger, try having them make zigzag, oval, and circular shapes in the foam, which will help perfect the small muscle memory needed to create clear and readable letters when they start to write by hand.

Stay Practical When Practicing

Like times tables and the alphabet, handwriting is best learned through repetition. Grouping similar letters together in blocks for practicing and completing 5—10 minutes of drills every day is the most beneficial way to impart correct letter formation. And while daily practice is necessary, especially for older students, it can include fun tasks, such as speed drills, letter races, writing clues for treasure hunts, and even creating codes where kids have to match up cursive letters. Incorporating handwriting practice into other areas of the curriculum helps students see cursive script as an attractive and quick way to record their thoughts and answers, which helps it become second nature.

The New York Times reported that neurologists have found that when handwriting is neglected, students' written work and reading development suffer. And because most students' main form of communication, after speech, is the written word, knowing how to teach handwriting is important. Students who learn to form their letters correctly, and move on to practicing cursive writing, develop a range of skills. They're better able to express themselves through writing, whether it's a shopping list, a love letter, or a memoir. They develop strong fine motor control, which can translate to areas like sports, music, and cooking. They gain confidence, take pride in their written work, and develop patience and an attitude of perseverance.

While many educators debate whether handwriting is something that should be formally taught, the pros outweigh the cons. Keep these tips and activities in mind as you help your students learn penmanship and, even more importantly, prepare for the future.