Handwriting: Learning to Write Right

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Help your child shape letters correctly, then move onto cursive with handy tips from a leading hand-writing expert.


fea_mom-toddler-letters.pngIn today’s fast-paced computer age, handwriting seems like a forgotten art … but think again. Handwriting is coming into sharp focus – and for good reason. While overall student confidence and early academic success are often directly related to handwriting, the new hand-written essay section of the SAT and other state tests have revitalized the interest of many parents and educators in handwriting.

Good handwriting is a skill we learn in early elementary school, but the benefits of good handwriting extend our entire lives. The truth is that mastering handwriting sets children up for other learning successes. Handwriting builds confidence, teaches children to have an organized approach to work and enhances their ability to communicate. Think about how exciting it is when a child writes his name for the first time. Think about how nice it is to be able to write easily and well.

Several studies show that children with good handwriting feel more confident and proud of their work, and other studies demonstrate that legible papers receive higher grades than do illegible ones. Students who don’t master neat letter formation are at a disadvantage, which can impact a child’s grade on spelling tests, math quizzes and essays. A student’s poor handwriting can be particularly detrimental during the new SAT and the standardized tests that now require a hand-written essay section. While these exams aim to measure a student’s ability to clearly express himself, it is imperative that his handwriting be legible and automatic in order to maximize thinking time and creative writing skills. Besides, if scorers can’t read it, how can they give students a proper grade?

While there are new reasons to learn to handwrite, there are also improved methods of teaching this important skill. Gone are the days of tediously practicing each letter starting with A and going through Z. Using the Handwriting Without Tears method, preschoolers learn about letters and good handwriting habits through song, kindergarteners learn on a slate, and first through fourth graders master handwriting spending only 10 minutes a day using other fun techniques. Additionally, the program seeks to boost kids’ confidence by teaching the easiest letters first, eliminating unnecessary strokes and stressing the most common letters.

The focus of today’s handwriting lessons is on developing good habits that make students legible, fluent writers and make handwriting an automatic skill that students don’t have to think about. Handwriting has been an integral part of communication for as long as there has been recorded history. And there is no evidence that anything could ever completely take its place.

Jan Z. Olsen is a mother, occupational therapist and hand-writing expert whose ideas became the basis for the first therapist’s guide, Handwriting Without Tears. Learn more about this educational program for grades preschool – 5 at www.hwtears.com.

Fun Activities Parents Can Do at Home with Kids

  • Use a flashlight and make letters on the wall. You or your child has to guess the letter that was made. You can also cut out letter templates to place in front of the flashlight.
  • While your children are in the bathtub, have them draw letters on the wall of the tub in shaving cream or soap paint.
  • Put letters on a die, have your child roll it and then write a word that starts with the letter it lands on.
  • Fish for words. Place cut out fish in a shoebox. Write words or letters on the fish. Attach paper clips to the fish and adapt a small pole with a magnet. Whichever fish the child gets, he has to come up with a word or sentence using what is on the fish.
  • Trace a letter on your child’s back and have him guess and write the letter on a piece of paper. Take turns and have him trace a letter on your back.
  • Finger paint letters.
  • Write letters on the sidewalk with chalk.
  • Trace letters in the snow or sand.
  • Decorate a letter collage using glitter, puffy paint and markers.
  • Use different types of pencils for writing practice.
  • Have children write with icing tubes.

Tips for Parents of PreK and Elementary Students

  • Do it correctly yourself – Remember that children learn by imitating you, so make sure that YOU are holding your pencil and forming your letters correctly.
  • Sit up straight – Make sure your child can sit with his feet on the floor and his arm can move freely wherever he writes, at home or school.
  • Read – Show your children the importance of communicating through words.
  • Sing – When you sing “The Alphabet Song,” show your children the letters as you sing. Sing songs that use their fingers, like the “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and “The Crayon Song.”
  • Draw – Children who draw often write better. For young drawers, give them broken pieces of chalk or crayons to use. They will have no choice but to hold these small pieces correctly using a proper grip.
  • Move – Teach spatial words like “under, over, top, middle and bottom” by using visual cues. Put one hand under another, etc.
  • Go “Top Left” – Get children in the habit of going from top to bottom and left to right.
  • Give them little bites – Encourage children, even babies as young as 9 months, to pick up small objects, like tiny pieces of food, with their fingers. It will help to develop writing muscles and coordination skills.
  • Play – Encourage preschoolers to use finger paints and sponges to strengthen writing muscles and reinforce coordination
  • Ask – Discuss with your child’s teacher what resources are available to help develop their skills.

Moving to Cursive … or Not?

After children have mastered printing, they can move on to cursive, and yet, by fifth grade, plenty of today’s children still haven’t learned the skill. In today’s Twitter-and-text culture, most of us are delighted to open our mailbox and find something – anything – handwritten in cursive. That could be why “Handwriting Without Tears” – developed by Jan Z. Olsen – has become the country’s cursive curriculum. Absent curlicues and frills, it teaches a clean, vertical style that looks a lot like print. Individual style and fluency come through in the individual’s cursive skill, and many children are more comfortable writing cursive over printing.

To help your child develop cursive skills, visit www.hwtears.com for downloadable worksheets and individual workbooks.

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