Handwriting Instruction—Good and Bad

Lately, on Facebook, I have noticed two handwriting-related products. One is of possible short-term value, but the other is a dreadful idea.

Device for demonstrating tripod pencil grip.

Training Pencil Grip
The possibly useful product is a device that is placed on the writing end of the pencil to hold the thumb and index finger in the tripod position. The device holds the child’s fingers in the tripod position. The device can be discarded as soon as the child has the idea.



Indented letters designed for child to trail a pencil point along the grooves. Not recommended by the American English Doctor.

Practice Handwriting Tool
This practice tool is similar to one that I would recommend, but has a major flaw. On this one, letter and numeral shapes are not merely printed, but indented. All the child has to do is place the point of the pencil in the indentation and pull it along. BAD idea. The child should be in control of the pencil.



Reusable Writing Tablet
When my grandchild was a toddler, I bought a tablet at Walmart that had several laminated pages. One page was for letters, another for numerals. Geometric shapes were also included. Each page had models of the objects to be drawn, dotted versions of them to be traced, and plenty of blank space for free-hand practice. I can’t find this tablet when I search online, but I do see reusable dry-erase tablets for tracing letters.

Failure to Teach Handwriting
The basic skill of forming legible letters in connected script has fallen into such disuse in most US elementary schools that primary teachers have even stopped teaching children how to hold a writing implement.

Young people in TV ads and real-life restaurant servers entwine their pens in their fingers or hold them like a ski pole, instead of grasping them in the comfortable tripod grip that provides optimum control.

People who should know better—i.e., teachers and school administrators—make such outrageous pronouncements as, “Teaching of cursive writing to children should stop.” And, “There just isn’t time in the school day to waste it on such an obsolete skill.”

Handwriting Still a Necessary Skill
Nothing is “obsolete” about handwriting. The skill of reading—which educators hype with monotonous (if ineffectual) frequency—is a product of the child’s ability to form the letters of the alphabet while learning the sounds they represent.

Once children develop the motor skills to hold and guide a pencil—at about the age of four years—they can begin the process of learning to form the letters.

NOTE: Parents do not need to wait until their children are four to teach them to form words and read them back. Toddlers can do this with moveable letters like magnetized plastic letters or letters printed on small squares, like Scrabble tiles.

Arguing the merits of legible handwriting should not be necessary, but here a few advantages:

  • Keyboards and computer printouts are not universally available. Even when they are available, they are not ideal for many kinds of communication.
  • Studies show that students who take notes by hand retain information more effectively than those who type their notes on a laptop.
  • Business advisors recommend that communicating with clients with a handwritten note is often the key to building loyal relationships.
  • Most people, inundated with emails and advertising fliers, treasure a handwritten note from a friend.
  • Children and adults who may not excel academically can nevertheless take great pride in having a beautiful handwriting.

Developing a legible handwriting is a practical business and social skill. Schools that neglect the teaching of it are guilty of educational malpractice.

What Parents Can Do
So, what should parents do to encourage their children to develop a legible handwriting?

  1. Teach them to hold a pencil properly.

  2. Provide them with models.

  3. Give them plenty of practice in forming the individual letters, saying the sounds as they form them.

It’s natural for parents to want to make things as easy as possible for their children, but there is such a thing as going overboard. For example, following indented lines with the point of a pencil is a passive exercise. Tracing a dotted letter, on the other hand, requires focused control and hand-to-eye coordination. Forming the letter free-hand requires even more effort from the child.

Unless your child has a disability that requires extraordinary teaching methods, the best way for a child to develop a legible handwriting is to practice with pencil and paper. Dotted letters to trace are helpful in the beginning, but they are like training wheels on a bicycle–temporary aids to be discarded as soon as possible.

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Handwriting is not irrelevant



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