In part one of this blog, I discussed why handwriting is still important in this digital age and also began to explore the basic skills that form the foundations for legible handwriting.
In this blog, I will be focusing on the basics of handwriting in more detail, exploring how you can support your child in mastering them, so that they can go on to master handwriting that is legible and beautiful, with ease.
Fine and Gross Motor Skills
Before even putting pen to paper, it is vital that a child has developed their fine and gross motor skills, as well as the hand and wrist muscles, as these are all skills needed in order to hold a pen or pencil correctly.
This can be achieved through a variety of activities, such as arts and crafts, sports including badminton, swimming and throwing and catching a ball and even activities within the home, such as washing up or carrying in the shopping bags.
A correct pencil grip will enable a child to write comfortably, legibly and fluently, whereas an incorrect grip will only inhibit a child’s ability to move the pen across the paper fluently and will often result in muscle fatigue.
The most popular correct grip and one that I always teach is the DynamicTripod grip, where the index finger and thumb hold the pencil against the middle finger. This can be achieved with the help of resources such as a Grotto grip.
Always remember that the foundations of handwriting are a key element to beautiful, legible and speedy handwriting. Miss this crucial step at your peril!
Case Study 1:
Lewis, a left-handed Year 10 student visited one of my WHSmith handwriting workshops.
He was struggling to keep up with writing speed and was unable to complete his AQA GCSE English Language practice papers in the allocated time. I took a look at his pen grip and immediately knew that it could be improved to help with his writing speed. I corrected his grip, ensuring that he was holding the pen in the Dynamic Tripod grip with his arm parallel to the paper and writing from underneath the line, not across it. The first thing he said to me was: “I can see what I have written!” He had a huge grin on his face. With a little practice he is now able to finish his exam papers in record time.
Letter formation is the ability to form letters correctly and legibly and it is an important part of cognitive development.
It is important that a child knows how to form letters correctly and how each letter should look on their own (un-joined) and in the printed style without an entry/lead-in stroke, before moving them on to anything else.
This creates good habits from the very start and ensures a child will be able to read and understand letters exactly how they are presented in reading materials.
Without mastering correct letter formation, a child will simply not be able to master legible handwriting.
If a child has poor and illegible handwriting, this indicates that one of the key basics above has not been achieved and will need revisiting. With the right support from both their teacher, parents and any helpful resources, any issues can and should be easily ironed out.
It is important that any issues with legibility are corrected before a child moves onto secondary school or high school, as this is a key skill needed for exams to ensure they achieve the grade they deserve. Illegible handwriting can cause children to lose valuable marks, as the marker simply cannot read their answer.
Writing speed and fluency
Writing speed is not an essential skill, but it is a skill which will aid a child throughout their exams. Holding the pencil or pen in the incorrect grip or with too many fingers on the writing instrument will slow down the writing speed and may even be painful for the writer.
Writing neatly and writing legibly are completely different. Legible handwriting can be read easily and does what it needs to, whereas with neat handwriting the focus is more on the aesthetics of the writing, including the height and size of each letter and word.
When writing in an exam, the aim should be to get as much information down, legibly in the time available without the focus being on ‘neatness’.
But how do you improve handwriting speed? The simple answer – with lots of practice and holding the writing instrument in the correct grip!
Only after a child has mastered legible handwriting, with a correct pen or pencil grip should you focus on improving their writing speed. Without these skills, they will find it extremely difficult to write at speed and legibility will deteriorate further.
It is important to remember that some children will always write slower than others, not because they cannot physically write faster, but because of the time it takes them to process information.
Always remember that handwriting should be fun. The moment it becomes a chore, the more difficult it will be for the writer to get their wonderful creative thoughts and words down onto paper. This is why we should not force children to write in the cursive script before they are ready; doing so will put them off writing for life.
Case Study 2:
Alistor had struggled with handwriting at primary school. He had been forced to join up from an early age and did not enjoy writing. His parents were concerned that he would not be able to keep up, now that he was moving into secondary school.
He visited one of my workshops and I immediately identified the lack of muscle strength and ability to move his fingers through the continuous cursive script that he had been pressurised to conform to. I took him back to the basics of letter shape and letter formation.
I explained that secondary schools focus on legibility and he no longer would have to write in a cursive script. The smile on his face said it all. He is now a confident young man, ready for writing in a speedy, fluent printed style.
Here’s what his parents said: “Thank you so much for today. The improvement is massive, his confidence has grown, I can read his writing!”