With so much keyboarding these days, handwriting is becoming a lost art. January 23rd is National Handwriting Day. Did you know there was such a thing? Any old school folks out there like me? Remember when we’d get tapped on the knuckles with rulers if you weren’t forming letters correctly? Kids’ handwriting and cursive practice looks much different today.
Established in 1977 on the birthday of perhaps one of America’s most celebrated scribes, John Hancock, National Handwriting Day was created to acknowledge the history and importance of penmanship in all of our lives. My grandmother (who would be over 100 if she were still alive) grew up in an era where students were taught and practiced exemplary handwriting. Even today, my brother and I often remark about the beauty and consistency of her script. Today, some schools are not even teaching cursive and still many more students struggle with typical handwriting. Here are some facts about handwriting and 5 ideas to encourage and practice your child’s handwriting skills.
Handwriting Makes Us Smarter
Research has shown that writing by hand benefits cognitive development, motor skills and can lead to improved writing skills and comprehension. University of Washington Psychologist Virginia Berninger concluded in a study on school-aged children that handwriting, both printing and cursive, and typing on a keyboard activated different brain patterns. Children who wrote by hand generated more ideas faster than those typing and exhibited better working memory, which increased overall reading and writing abilities.
Expression Through the Art of Handwriting
Handwriting allows people to be artists during a time when the tool of choice for writing is often a digital device. The art of handwriting is one of the few ways people can uniquely express themselves.
Developing this skill in children has shown to influence reading, writing, language, creativity and critical thinking. Handwriting adds intimacy to anything written, whether it’s a letter, a card or a simple note, and reveals details about the writer’s personality. As a result, many of us choose to save handwritten cards and letters as reminders of loved ones.
“As technology grows and certainly plays an important role in our lives, nothing will ever replace the sincerity and individualism expressed through the handwritten word,” says David H. Baker, WIMA’s Executive Director.
10 Tips to Get Kids Writing (and not arguing with you about it!)
The Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA) sponsors National Handwriting Day with the mission of sharing the significance and power of handwriting. WIMA suggests reinforcing the importance of handwriting with children on National Handwriting Day in any of the following ways:
- Learn about the important written documents in history. Throughout history, handwritten documents have sparked love affairs, started wars, established peace, freed slaves, created movements and declared independence. Find what strikes their passion and encourage it through reading and writing.
- Read a book. And find one that they can relate to and love. It may not be writing, but it shows appreciation of writing. Some of the most noted authors prefer pen and paper to create their novels including J.K. Rowling, who drafted her famous Harry Potter series on napkins.
- Practice 15 minutes of handwriting each day. Experts recommend a minimum of 15 minutes of handwriting each day for students to experience the benefits of the skill. I know, we are constantly told 20 minutes a day for reading, now 15 minutes a day for writing, where should we find the time? These aren’t hard and fast rules and I’m sure you’ll be able to find balance.
- If your child really struggles with handwriting, ask for an OT evaluation for handwriting and/or fine motor.
- “Trick” them into writing. Ask them to write your shopping list for you as you look in the cupboards and refridgerator.
- Start a diary or journal. Keeping a diary or journal is a great way for children to write daily–sharing their innermost thoughts, dreams and fears on paper. University of Texas at Austin psychologist James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells and reduces stress. Not to mention it makes a great keepsake as they progress through life.
- Accept that due to lack of fine motor skills, some kids may “max out” with handwriting skills that are, well, not great. But as long as it’s legible, encourage them to keep going. Use AT when appropriate, but still keep practicing!
- Write a story or make a card. Encourage children to get their creative juices flowing by writing a story or creating a card for someone.
- Have them write their own thank you notes at holidays and birthdays, or party invitations if they have a birthday party. Valentine’s Day is another opportunity.
- There are specific curricula like “Handwriting Without Tears” that you can use to practice. Just make sure to keep it fun at home, and not like school work.
And of course, model good behavior. Let your kids see you reading, writing, journaling…and just enjoying words! Kids learn what they see.
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-  Hanover Research (2012) The Importance of Teaching Handwriting in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: Hanover Research