Published on 27th January, 2020 by Dr. Sanveen Kang
Handwriting is an important part of literacy and an essential skill for life. It is not uncommon to wonder why so, even in our current digital age.
Despite the increasing use of devices such as tablets and computers at home and in school, it is known that the physically documenting one’s thoughts and ideas on paper. Automatic handwriting is related to the fluidity of ideas. As such, they may struggle to write creatively or even to write down answers correctly, as all their focus and effort to just get anything down on paper. Children also need to write to do homework, tests and assignments. Children with poor handwriting may face problems when a teacher marks their written work. We also need handwriting skills to do many tasks later in life like writing birthday cards, filling in forms and signing important documents.
Handwriting is a complex skill that develops over time. To learn handwriting, children need to combine fine motor skills, language, memory and concentration. They need to practise and follow instructions. Handwriting starts with scribbling and drawing then moves on to forming letters and words.
When children struggle to write legibly, they are may often be seen as being lazy, and this may affect their behavior and self-esteem. In secondary years, children who struggle with handwriting may endure more as they struggle to keep up with the volume of written work required.
Handwriting for children can be affected by many factors. These are some, but not all, of the factors. Some children struggle with just one area; others may have more than one factor impacting on their handwriting abilities.
These enable the hands to correctly replicate what the eyes see. Visual perception and fine motor abilities are integrated into this skill, to enable the child to copy shapes, numbers, and letters. Children need to be able to copy basic shapes (diagonal lines, circles, squares, triangles and intersecting lines) before learning to form their letters correctly.
These enable children to understand what they see. A child with poor visual discrimination skills may not see that writing an “r” is different to writing and “n” or “h”. And this may be reflected in a child’s handwriting, where those letters all look the same. A child with poor visual closure skills may not realize that an “o” which is not closed properly looks like “u”, and this would affect their letter formations. A child with poor visual-spatial skills may affect a child’s ability to lay work out well on the page and can make his handwriting looks messy. Letters may be irregularly sized, or the child may struggle to use the lines properly.
Handwriting is significantly affected by the child’s ability to manipulate or control the pencil. In-hand manipulation (dexterity) and finger skills have been shown to have the most impact on handwriting for children. A poor sitting posture will also affect handwriting in children, as the smaller muscles of the hands are not freed up to work properly.
Directionality and problems with left-right discrimination can affect letter reversals and transcription (writing “saw” as “was”), as well as starting on the wrong side of the page or writing in the wrong direction.
Tactile (touch) as well as proprioceptive and kinesthetic feedback, from the hands and joints, plays an important role in helping develop good handwriting for children. Children who struggle with these skills may hold the pencil too tightly, or press too hard on the paper when writing. Sometimes they may scribble “uncontrollably” to give themselves proprioceptive feedback. They may also feel the need to keep their heads close to their work to watch while they write, trying to get as much visual feedback as possible to compensate for their poor sensory feedback.
Children need to plan the action of holding the pencil, putting it to the paper, planning the layout of work on the page and carrying it out, establishing the motor memory of remembering how letters are formed (orthographic coding) and carrying over the memory from one task to the next. Poor motor planning (dyspraxia) may affect all the other areas discussed here (such as fine motor skills, visual motor coordination, orthographic coding, etc). Children with poor motor planning skills struggling with other classroom tasks, such as figuring out how to use a ruler to draw a line, figuring out how to cut around a complex shape with scissors, etc.