A lot has changed in the classroom in the last decade.  Electronic whiteboards, iPads and Mathletics homework are just some of the ways that children are using technology to learn.  When children are using technology so regularly as part of their learning, is handwriting still a useful skill?  Will it affect children’s learning if they are struggling with handwriting?

The short answer is yes, handwriting remains a relevant skill that contributes to our children’s development.

Handwriting is an activity that children do each and every day at school, even in classrooms that use lots of technology.  The early years of school revolve around learning to read and write letters and words. Through maths, integrated studies, english lessons children are writing. Children who are struggling with their handwriting are experiencing a lack of success every single day.  This is an incredibly discouraging experience.   These children are at risk of developing a negative attitude about their capabilities as a learner and can lead to avoiding activities that use handwriting.

The early years of school are a time when a child starts to reference himself or herself against their peers, noticing similarities and differences and forming their self-concept and self-esteem. Handwriting is a very visual marker that children use to judge if they are successful compared to their peers. The child who is struggling with handwriting can see that he or she is not doing as well as others.  And this is reinforced every single day. Sometimes a child will start to think they are dumb, or not as smart as others just because they are having difficulty with writing. They say things like “My writing is messy – I’m dumb” “I can’t do it!” “It doesn’t look as good as everyone else’s”.

They don’t know that:

  • Handwriting is one of the hardest things a child has to learn!
  • It uses physical skills (stability, strength, coordination)
  • It uses sensory discrimination and sensory modulation skills
  • It uses visual perceptual skills
  • It uses cognitive skills
  • It uses executive function skills
  • It relies on many skills having been developed in preparation for learning to write
  • It takes teaching and lots of opportunity to practise
  • It can be improved!

When a child has difficulty with handwriting it can also interfere with their ability to demonstrate their true knowledge and understanding, when it is required in written form. Understanding the nature of a child’s handwriting difficulty and then working on these skills through Occupational Therapy can help with this. But at times being able to use other methods to demonstrate knowledge is also appropriate – using a scribe, dictating answers or learning to type work from an earlier age are all compensatory ways that allow a child to demonstrate their true knowledge and abilities. Occupational Therapists often advocate for children to have access to alternate ways to demonstrate their knowledge, as the child continues to work on developing their handwriting ability.

Signs that your child may be having difficulty with handwriting include the following:

  • He has great ideas but struggles to get these ideas into sentences.
  • She has beautiful handwriting, but it is such as slow and effortful process and she often doesn’t complete her work.
  • His letters are reversed, different sizes, or don’t sit within the blue and red lines of his notebook.
  • She has difficulty sitting up straight in her seat, often rests her head on her hands, or complains of a sore hand after handwriting.
  • It is difficult to tell where one word ends and another begins, as he doesn’t leave a space between words.
  • She has lots of difficulty with spelling when writing.
  • He is usually so good at following instructions, but no matter how many times he is reminded how to ‘hold his pencil the right way’ he doesn’t do it.

If you feel that your child has been struggling with handwriting and it is impacting their self-esteem, engagement in learning or academic success, you can get help. An Occupational Therapist can identify the specific components of handwriting that are difficult for your child and work out a plan with you and your child to help them improve and experience more success.