Teaching Handwriting to Young Kids—Important or Outdated?

By Vanessa M. Pastore, MA on

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 is “why do we still teach handwriting to young children?”

The parents who ask this often have a child who struggles with writing. The child may have an issue like dyspraxia or dysgraphia. He may have trouble with motor skills or with expressing his thoughts. His parents 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, handwriting may help your child’s overall learning. Research suggests the act of handwriting versus the act of keyboarding aids in learning new information. For instance, a child is more likely to remember a number if she writes it down than if she types 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 coworkers. 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, a child needs good thumb strength. To use it for a long time, a child needs to have strong shoulders and a strong torso.

In addition, the child has to remember how letters look and how to organize space to write legibly. He has to remember how to form letters. Then, he must have knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, punctuation and capitalization. He also needs 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 motor skills issues 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 learning to write by hand isn’t worth it. That’s when we can compensate with the use of a keyboard for school. Writing accommodations in school can also help. Each child will have different needs.

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

Want to learn more? Use this checklist to explore how you can help your child with writing issues.

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