There has been several factors that are causing professionals to reexamine the research conducted on the relationship between handwriting and reading:

  • Increased use of technology by preschoolers
  • Increased use of keyboarding in Kindergarten – 4th grade
  • The decreased emphasis and use of cursive writing
  • The decreased use of the weekly spelling tests in elementary school.

The most significant finding is that learning to write and print letters with pencil and pen improves children’s ability to recognize and process letters when reading.  It is a multi-sensory approach to learning letter recognition and it should also be practiced when learning letter sounds. Children learning to write should say the letter sound while learning to print the letter (not the letter’s name, but its sound!)

Learning to write is a fine-motor skill, and it is being affected by the increase in technology use by pre-school children and elementary school children.  To be a successful writer, humans begin developing fine motor skills in the hands as early as 3 months old!  The hand muscles need to be developed for pinching, holding, and manipulating objects in order to write. 

Children learn to strengthen the muscles in their hands through play and manipulation by:

  1. Brushing their own teeth
  2. Combing their own hair
  3. Dressing themselves
  4. Playing with Play-doh and clay
  5. Coloring in coloring books with large crayons and fat markers (not the skinny ones)
  6. Drawing their own creations on paper with large crayons and fat markers
  7. Playing with Mr. Potato Head, building with blocks and Legos, Pick-up Sticks, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Operation, Light Bright, Jenga, Lincoln Logs, puzzles and other manipulative toys
  8. Putting clothes on dolls, Barbies and Polly Pockets
  9. Playing outside on monkey bars
  10. Making things with pipe cleaners, yarn, stickers and shapes
  11. Using glue sticks and scissors
  12. Painting with a paintbrush and finger painting

All of these popular games, tools and “mess-making” toys prepare your child for learning to write and becoming a fluid writer.

In order for children to be able to read and spell, they need to be able to quickly and accurately recognize letter shapes, recall their sounds, and put them together to read.  Learning to write in pre-school and early kindergarten is a very important pre-reading skill.  Children need strong fine motor skills to write, and knowing how to write letters and recall their sounds while writing is crucial for reading and spelling.  Writing is the synthesis of knowing how to read and spell, knowing all the letter shapes automatically, and being able to quickly reproduce them.  Studies have been conducted, and keyboarding skills create very weak associations to letter knowledge and sound because it isnot involve a multi-sensory process that requires manually, with the hand, learning the shape of the letter.

Pencil grip is another important skill that is being neglected as class sizes for teachers increase. The more ergonomical the pencil grip, the faster and easier the hand can write without cramping and feeling painful.

Cursive writing is considered the most efficient form of writing.  Research shows the average cursive writer can write 100 letters per minute versus 50 when printing.  

What can you do at home to improve your child’s handwriting abilities?

  1. Purchase toys that use hand manipulation, and encourage the use of these toys with your preschool children and elementary-aged children.  Most children under age 12 will enjoy playing with almost every toy listed in this article.
  2. Have your child practice proper pencil grip (click for a fun video!)
  3. Have your child practice handwriting for 10-15 minutes three to four times per week.  Use fat pencils, crayons, markers, shaving cream, or write them on a cookie sheet in sugar, flour or even peanut butter.  Please make it fun so they want to do it. Give them writing tasks such as labeling items in the kitchen, or copying a quick note to Grandma and Grandpa.  Copying is an excellent way to practice handwriting, and take out the stress and cognitive load of spelling while they learn letter formation.
  4. If your child complains it hurts, resists, etc. give them more fine motor toys to play with, and encourage them to color pictures, paint with a paintbrush, play with clay, etc.
  5. Children who show severe aversion to handwriting could have dysgraphia (difficulty writing).  This most often occurs with dyslexia and ADHD.

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