Handwriting is Essential for Learning
1. Chang, Shao-Hsia, and Nan-Ying Yu. 2013. “Handwriting Movement Analyses Comparing First and Second Graders with Normal or Dysgraphic Characteristics.” Research in Developmental Disabilities 34(9):2433–41.
2. Feder, Katya P., and Annette Majnemer. 2007. “Handwriting Development, Competency, and Intervention.” Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology 49(4):312–17. 3. Freeman, Jonathan B., Rick Dale, and Thomas A. Farmer. 2011. “Hand in Motion Reveals Mind in Motion.” Frontiers in Psychology 2. 4. Prunty, Mellissa M., Anna L. Barnett, Kate Wilmut, and Mandy S. Plumb. 2013. “Handwriting Speed in Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: Are They Really Slower?” Research in Developmental Disabilities 34(9):2927–36.5. Puranik, Cynthia S., Stephanie Al Otaiba, Jessica Folsom Sidler, and Luana Greulich. 2013. “Exploring the Amount and Type of Writing Instruction During Language Arts Instruction in Kindergarten Classrooms.” Reading and Writing 1–24.
6. Schwellnus, Heidi et al. 2013. “Writing forces associated with four pencil grasp patterns in grade 4 children.” AJOT: American Journal of Occupational Therapy 67(2):218.
7. Waelveldde, Hilde Van, Tinneke Hellinckz, Wim Peersman, and Bouwien C.M. Smits-Engels. 2012. “SOS: A Screening Instrument to Identify Children with Handwriting Impairments.” Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics 32(3): 306- 319.
Letter Formation and Speed is More Important than Pencil Grip
A recent study, published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, found that the kinetics, speed, and legibility of writing were not different among children who used four different types of pencil grips after ten minutes of writing.
The findings suggest that a child’s pencil grip is less important than their ability to correctly form letters at various speeds. Schwellnus (2013) found no kinetic differences among the four commonly occurring pencil grips: dynamic tripod, dynamic quadrupod, lateral tripod, and lateral quadrupod.
In order for a child’s pencil grip to be functional for handwriting, it must provide the ability to efficiently create a legible written product in the required timeframe. Children must be able to write long enough to adequately complete their homework and class assignments. If a child’s pencil grip is preventing them for achieving grade-appropriate functional writing, it is suggested they be referred to occupational therapists.
Schwellnus, Heidi et al. 2013. “Writing forces associated with four pencil grasp patterns in grade 4 children.” AJOT: American Journal of Occupational Therapy 67(2):218.
Learning Impairments can cause Handwriting Delays
Waelveldde et al. (2012) found that children with learning challenges experience handwriting delays at a younger age. The study, published in the Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics journal, reported using an effective handwriting screening tool to evaluate the accuracy and speed of children’s handwriting. Early intervention may prevent secondary problems that are often associated with poor handwriting, such as academic underachievement and low self-esteem.
Teachers and parents frequently attribute a child’s poor handwriting to laziness and/or lack of motivation which can lead to frustration and disappointment for the child. Repeated failures and frustration will likely affect the child’s motivation which may also contribute to inadequate handwriting. Waelveldde et al. (2012) describe this as vicious cycle for the child struggling with handwriting difficulties.
Handwriting difficulties have been shown to be associated with developmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, Developmental Coordinator Disorder, and other learning disorders. However, early occupational or physical therapy interventions have been shown to be effective with children who struggle with poor handwriting.
If children cannot write fast enough or correctly during kindergarten, they often struggle by the time they reach the 2nd or 3rd grade. Children’s letter formation must be fast enough to remember spelling patterns while simultaneously keeping their train of thought. If not, this could be detrimental to children’s later schooling.
Waelveldde, Hilde Van, Tinneke Hellinckz, Wim Peersman, and Bouwien C.M. Smits-Engels. 2012. “SOS: A Screening Instrument to Identify Children with Handwriting Impairments.” Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics 32(3): 306- 319.
Handwriting Instruction in Kindergarten Classrooms
According to the latest recommendations, students in kindergarten should be spending at least 30 minutes each day developing their writing skills, such as spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
During children’s formative years, the time generally recommended for handwriting instruction (letter formation and speed) is at least 75 to 110 minutes per week. Purankik et al. (2013) found the time spent on handwriting instruction in kindergarten classrooms was not in line with the recommended practice.
The results, published in the journal of Reading and Writing, were disconcerting to researchers since the ability to correctly and efficiently write letters is a building block for spelling and reading comprehension. The goal of the study was to obtain greater information regarding teaching guidelines and benchmarks at the end of kindergarten.
To test this, researchers observed the types and frequency of writing instructions in kindergarten classrooms. Writing assessments were also included in the analysis to measure student’s spelling, handwriting fluency, and writing compositions. A total of 238 kindergarten children and 21 teachers participated in the study.
Researchers found most of the time spent on writing instruction did not include teachers providing explicit directions, but rather students were writing independently. The time spent on handwriting instruction averaged less than 1 minute per day in the start of the fall semester and less than 2 minutes per day toward the end of the semester.
Puranik, Cynthia S., Stephanie Al Otaiba, Jessica Folsom Sidler, and Luana Greulich. 2013. “Exploring the Amount and Type of Writing Instruction During Language Arts Instruction in Kindergarten Classrooms.” Reading and Writing 1–24.
Children with Dysgraphia Experience Problems with Handwriting
Dysgraphia is a learning impairment that makes the act of writing difficult. It can lead to problems with spelling, handwriting legibility, and the communication of meaning through writing. Pausing on paper and the dysfluency of pen movement are additional indicators of writing difficulties experienced by children with dysgraphia, according to a recent study.
The findings, published in the journal, Research in Developmental Disabilities, found children with dysgraphic characteristics demonstrated significant differences in handwriting performances compared to their typically developing peers.
Children were included in this study from both the 1st and 2nd grade because these early years are vital in the development of proficient handwriting skills. The handwriting process was examined in participants with and without dysgraphia using a digital tablet. Various handwriting tasks were used to collect data on handwriting movement for kinematic and kinetic analyses.
Children with dysgraphia were found to pause for longer amounts of time, lacked writing bursts, and tended to lift their pen more than their typically developing peers. The results of this study provide better insight for recognizing how dysgraphia can interfere with a child’s writing and ability to learn.
These difficulties may be caused by some of the following common writing issues children with dysgraphia experience:
- Trouble forming letters and shapes
- Poor understanding of uppercase and lowercase letters
- Awkward and ineffective pencil grip
- Inconsistent spacing between letters or words
- Hand and arm tiring quickly while writing
- Mixture of cursive and print
- Illegible handwriting
- Word ending omission
Chang, Shao-Hsia, and Nan-Ying Yu. 2013. “Handwriting Movement Analyses Comparing First and Second Graders with Normal or Dysgraphic Characteristics.” Research in Developmental Disabilities 34 (9) : 2433–41.
Handwriting Speed and Developmental Coordination Disorder
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) in children is commonly characterized by “unexplained motor coordination difficulties often caused by a general medical condition, intellectual disability, or neurological impairment.”
DCD can significantly impact children’s handwriting abilities. Previous research has shown that children with DCD demonstrate a distinct slowness when writing from memory, copying texts, and even the task of writing their own names. Additionally, children with DCD are found to pause for significant amounts of time during writing exercises, according to a recent study.
In this study, published in the journal of Research in Developmental Disabilities, Prunty et al. (2013) examined the handwriting process in children with DCD and in their typically developing peers. Children with DCD performed below their peers on each writing measurement due to the high percentage of time children spent pausing while writing.
The extent of children’s pausing time seemed to largely depend on the type of handwriting tasks and the cognitive demands required for successfully completing each task. For instance, free-writing and writing from memory requires greater attention than copying tasks, which provides children with visual information. Therefore, little thought is needed for letter retrieval and knowing the structural rules that govern the composition of a particular language.
However, the findings did reveal that despite copying tasks requiring less cognitive demands on children with DCD, the group as a whole produced fewer legible words per minute on the copying and free-writing tasks.
Researchers analyzed a group of thirty children with DCD ranging from 8 to 14 years, and a control group of the same age who did not have any known motor, intellectual, or reading/spelling difficulties. Both groups were measured on their handwriting and copying speed, name writing, and their overall handwriting process.
An important implication of this study is that children with DCD may need extra time during writing exercises and additional practice with producing the letters and words on the page. Once children efficiently learn how to write, this frees up their cognitive attention to focus on the higher levels of writing, such as content and ideas.
Prunty, Mellissa M., Anna L. Barnett, Kate Wilmut, and Mandy S. Plumb. 2013. “Handwriting Speed in Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: Are They Really Slower?” Research in Developmental Disabilities 34(9):2927–36.