Teaching handwriting to young kids: Important or outdated?

By Vanessa M. Pastore, MA

I’ve been a pediatric occupational therapist for over 20 years. I’ve worked with countless kids with learning differences. And I’ve done so in many public and private school settings. One question I frequently get from parents? “Why do we still teach handwriting to young children?”

The parents who ask this often have a child who struggles with writing. Some kids have or . Some may have trouble with motor skills or with expressing thoughts. Parents often want to understand why handwriting is still relevant in our technologically advanced world.

This isn’t an easy issue. But I believe handwriting is still important, and here’s why.

First, writing by hand may help with overall learning. Research suggests the act of handwriting versus the act of keyboarding aids in learning new information. For instance, kids are more likely to remember a number if they write it down than if they type the same number.

Second, despite all our technology, handwriting is still a functional skill. It’s required in many aspects of life. Examples range from filling out a form in a doctor’s office to developing a unique signature for signing checks. In fact, I’ve worked with adults who have jobs that require them to write.

I had one client who needed to be able to log the date and time of telephone calls by co-workers. He had to do so on a form with pre-set spaces. He also had to sign his name next to each entry. This was challenging because he never learned cursive writing in grade school. Needless to say, this caused great anxiety for him.

So handwriting is important, but we have to remember that it isn’t easy for kids to learn. Handwriting is a combination of many skills. What you see on paper is a direct result of these skills.

To hold a pencil and use it properly, kids need good thumb strength. To use it for a long time, they need to have strong shoulders and a strong torso.

In addition, they have to remember how letters look and how to organize space to write legibly. They have to remember how to form letters. Then, they must have knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, and capitalization. They also need to string thoughts together to make sentences relate to one another.

Kids who struggle with writing need a lot of support. A child who has challenges with motor skills may need a kinesthetic or physical approach to learning to write. Perhaps that means tracing letters or doing large movements. It may also mean engaging several senses — like sight, touch, and hearing — while writing.

With each grade level, writing demands increase. There may come a time when a child is so frustrated that writing everything by hand isn’t worth it. That’s when we can compensate with the use of a keyboard for school. Writing in school can also help. Each child will have different needs.

While handwriting may be more difficult for kids with writing challenges, that doesn’t mean it’s not important. The basic skill of handwriting is still valuable.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Vanessa M. Pastore, MA is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration. She has a private clinic in New York City.