Who Needs Handwriting, Anyway?

I do most of my work on a computer, iPhone, or tablet. In fact, I am typing the draft of this blog post on my iPhone. I understand how it can seem as if handwriting is an antiquated notion, if not completely impractical in this digital age in which we are raising our children. There is no doubt that keyboarding skills are essential to modern life. But, did you know that handwriting skills are linked to longterm academic success, increased memory function, and ability to focus?

Handwriting engages a group of skills classified as “executive function” in a way that typing and tracing simply do not. Executive function skills are broadly defined as the skills that help us prioritize and complete tasks. In 2012, Trends in NeuroScience and Education published a study that looked closely at the impact of handwriting, tracing, and typing in pre-literate children. They found clear indicators that handwriting led to stronger, sustained reading gains.

Handwriting doesn’t stop having an impact in those early formative years of learning, either. In a study published by Psychological Science, they discovered that college students who take notes longhand “engage in more cognitive processing than laptop notetakers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently.”

With evidence mounting that handwriting builds stronger cognitive skills, it’s clear that we should make handwriting a priority. But with the efficiency of typing and the engaging, fun nature of apps, how is a pencil supposed to compete? Here are a few of my favorite handwriting-development ideas:

Research Milestones

One of my very favorite blogs for all things fine motor is Growing Hands-On Kids. An occupational therapist by trade, the author compiles terrific resources about development of pencil grasp in children. It’s a great reference. If you think your child might have a delay or challenge, reach out to an occupational therapist for evaluation. While blog posts are great and learning activities are fun, they are no substitute for a professional evaluation.

Writing Paths

Learning the proper paths your hand needs to take to form the letters of the alphabet is one of cornerstones of handwriting. There are so many fun rhymes and games you can play to help your child learn these skills:

Dino Stomp: If you have a little who loves dinosaurs, this is sure to be a favorite. Dinosaur Stomp from Simple Play Ideas combines writing path learning with dinosaurs and Play-Doh. That is a recipe for fun. All you need is Play-Doh, a marker, and toy dinosaurs. Simply form balls of Play-Doh into flat discs, then write a letter on each disc and have your child stomp out their letter path with their dinosaur.

Sand Letter Writing: The concept for this is simple! Have a small tray of colored sand or salt and have your child write letters in the sand. The great thing about sand letter writing is that it can progress with your child. They can first use their finger, then a Popsicle stick, then a stylus. I am without a doubt a “disnerd”. When I spotted this Dori themed take on sand letter writing from Inspiration laboratories, I was all in. Sand Letter writing has the added benefit of also having a fun sensory component.

Placement and Strengthening Games

Rainbow Polka-Dots: This simple, fun game can yield big gains in learning how to control the pencil and strengthen grasp. I spotted this activity on the OT Toolbox. Simply draw open circles on a page and have your child color them in. You can deepen the exercise by asking them to draw or color specific patterns.

Warm-Ups: Before we begin any seated writing activity, we always do a finger warm-up. It’s a great way to energize the small muscles in your hand before writing. One option is the finger push-up — simply touch the fingertips of your left hand to the fingertips of your right hand and push them against each other a few times. Growing Hands-On Kids has a great list of shoulder and finger warm-ups.

Inspire

Create a Writing Center: I firmly believe that access is everything. When children have access to writing resources, they are more likely to write. Several years ago, I read a wonderful book called Playful Learning. The result of that was the creation of our writing center. It has grown and shifted over the years, but it has remained a staple in our home.

Give Your Child a Journal: Include no limitations other than their own imagination. Writing is a creative process, as well as a technical skill. Giving your child a journal to jot down their thoughts, ideas, or general silliness is a great way to inspire them to keep up with their handwriting practice. Encourage them to set aside some time to journal when you are outside, when you are on the road, or when you are waiting to be seated at a restaurant.

Don’t forget that there are many handwriting apps available that can also turn your electronic device into a handwriting tool. I highly recommend grabbing a stylus and using it in coordination with any of these apps.  One of my favorites is the Handwriting Without Tears app.

Do you have any favorite handwriting resources? Tell us about them in the comments below.

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