Survey reveals impact of pandemic on young children’s handwriting
We reveal the areas of handwriting that most concern teachers, and Michelle van Rooyen, an occupational therapist with a special interest in handwriting, shares her thoughts on the survey findings.
A new survey of primary teachers has revealed the extent that the pandemic has impacted on children’s handwriting, with 83% of teachers and senior leaders saying disruption to their school has had a negative effect on pupils’ good handwriting habits.
Our research, conducted in June 2021, also asked which areas of handwriting had been most affected. Stamina was most commonly highlighted by Key Stage 2 teachers (72%) and headteachers (76%).
We spoke to Michelle van Rooyen, an occupational therapist with a special interest in handwriting to hear her thoughts: ‘This research confirms what many educators are experiencing right now. Being able to write independently for extended periods of time is a crucial skill for children to nurture. Like those who responded to this survey, I am concerned for pupils who have been out of the classroom during the pandemic. The shift to using laptops and tablets, which use different muscles, and a wider freedom to complete tasks without a structured timetable will likely be key reasons why stamina is flagged as a cause for concern by teachers.’
Rebuilding stamina through structured practice
Handwriting schemes like WriteWell can help pupils to improve their writing stamina through regular practice. WriteWell Books 10 and 11 are designed for Key Stage 2 pupils and focus on writing at speed and developing a personal style. The activities in these workbooks can be used to challenge pupils to write for long periods of time and can be combined with other activities, such as copying extended passages from their reading books, to rebuild stamina.
‘Muscle memory’ affected by pandemic
For Key Stage 1 and Reception teachers, the survey found that letter size and position is the area of most concern (69%). Michelle has also noticed similar problems in her work with children, saying: ‘Being able to focus on the size and position of letters in relation to each other is the crucial next step after formation, which is an area that I’m often seeing children struggle with at the moment.’
She went on to explain: ‘Opportunities for motor mapping letters and joins during the pandemic have been reduced. As a result, children haven’t been able to develop their motor memory in the same way, and the underdevelopment of fine motor skills will impact correct letter formations as well as the size and placement of letters.’
The first four WriteWell books are ideal for pupils that need to learn how to draw shapes and patterns before moving onto forming letters of the alphabet. Once letter formation is secure, WriteWell Book 5 helps pupils arrange their writing on baselines and form letters of the correct relative size.
Across all primary teachers and headteachers, writing stamina (72%), speed (55%), letter size and position (53%), fluency (51%) and letter joins (48%) were the five handwriting areas of most concern highlighted by the survey. Handwriting style (28%) was the area of writing that teachers felt had been least affected.
Good handwriting frees up mental bandwidth
The survey also found that two-fifths of teachers have increased the amount of time focused on handwriting since fully reopening school.
Handwriting is a foundational skill that unlocks children’s potential once mastered, but Michelle van Rooyen is concerned about how the disruption in schools could hold back children from displaying it, saying: ‘When produced with ease, good handwriting frees up mental bandwidth for other activities, which is vital given the wider catch-up happening in schools currently. But if a child is unable to put their ideas on paper, we are limiting their ability to share, and this will have a knock-on effect across their work.’
WriteWell structured handwriting scheme
Children need to develop fluent, legible and – eventually – speedy handwriting, so that by the end of Key Stage 2 they can write their ideas confidently across the curriculum. The best way to achieve this is through a systematic and consistent approach to teaching handwriting across all primary school year groups, which is why we developed WriteWell, a structured scheme designed to develop pupils’ handwriting from Reception to Year 6.
The survey was undertaken on behalf of Schofield & Sims by Teacher Tapp, a daily survey app that asks questions to over 8000 teachers each day and reweights the results to make them representative.
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