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The benefits of handwriting

30 April 2015

The benefits of handwriting

Guest blogger Alex Charalambous highlights the importance of handwriting skills, even in today's technology dominated world.

In the new National Curriculum, the programmes of study for English state that ‘writing also depends on fluent, legible and, eventually speedy handwriting’ for pupils by the time they enter Year 5 (aged 9). In this heavy-laden technological world that we live in, I hear many people question whether or not handwriting practice in schools is actually useful. As adults we communicate electronically on keyboards big and small, students at university word process essays and our children are confident users of tablets, accustomed to using a wide range of IT programmes and apps to enhance their learning.

A dying art form?
Think back to the last time you wrote something by hand: a shopping list, a letter to your child’s teacher, a message in a birthday card? If you struggled to think of the last time you put pen to paper, then you are one of many who rely almost entirely on technology to communicate. Some would even go so far as to argue that handwriting is a dying art form. It is therefore important that educators work hard to ensure that handwriting remains a priority for children’s development.

Benefits of writing by hand
You may be surprised to hear about the many benefits of writing by hand. Writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. For young children, handwriting practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression and aid with fine motor skill development. Many schools are adopting the cursive style of handwriting for children as young as four years old. Not only does it help with children’s letter formation, but it also supports children who may be struggling with learning to blend adjacent consonants (cr, dr, gl, etc.) in phonics sessions. Saying and holding the sound as they trace over letters stimulates a child’s memory from the hand to the sound.

Engages the brain
Research has shown that writing by hand engages the brain in learning. As adults, we often write something down to help us retain information. Pictures of the brain clearly illustrate that sequential finger movements activate areas in thinking, language and working memory. According to Dr William Klemm, a senior professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, practising cursive writing ‘trains the brain to function more effectively in visual scanning’, thereby improving reading efficiency and increasing speed.

Fit for handwriting
If your child is at the early stages of writing, you can check whether or not they are “fit for handwriting” by assessing their gross and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills are those which require whole body movement and which involve the large muscles of the body to perform everyday functions, such as standing, walking, running, and sitting upright. They also include eye-hand coordination skills, such as hitting, catching, kicking or throwing a ball. Fine motor skills involve the use of the smaller muscles of the hands, such as when doing up buttons, opening lunch boxes or using pencils or scissors.

Activities to support motor skills
Activities that can help children develop gross motor skills include climbing ropes, swinging across rings on outdoor apparatus, digging, pedaling on a tricycle, painting on a big wall and sweeping ribbons or scarves over their heads. To develop fine motor skills, encourage your child to take part in activities such as weaving beads through a string, sewing, playing with play dough, picking cubes with tweezers, cutting, drawing and colouring, and playing with Lego or stickle bricks. All of these activities support a child’s development, preparing them to hold a pencil correctly and form letters with greater ease.

This blog post was written by literacy expert Alex Charalambous on behalf of Springboard for Children, a charity providing one-to-one support to improve reading and writing for children who are in danger of being left behind. For more information visit: www.springboard.org.uk.  imageBROKER / Alamy

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