Why Handwriting is Important

Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic, “3 R’s” that have served as the foundation of basic educational curriculum, was believed to have been first coined during a toast by Sir William Curtis around 1825 (1). Yet over the previous two decades handwriting has experienced a decreasing level of focus and instruction. Many schools do not have any formal handwriting curriculum in place. A common opinion is that with the increasing role computers play in our society; handwriting is no longer an important skill to learn at an early age. Unfortunately this opinion is misguided. Consider the following examples from academic research that highlight the importance of dedicated handwriting instruction, and the potential consequences for young children lacking basic handwriting skills.

“Legible handwriting is an important skill – far too important to be left to chance. Systematic handwriting instruction can and should be provided in every school district and classroom because all children deserve the benefits that legible handwriting can confer.Make no mistake, if handwriting has a poor appearance, the writer is judged poorly by our society.” (2)

“Failure to attain handwriting competency during the school-age years often has far-reaching negative effects on both academic success and self-esteem…Studies of handwriting remediation suggest that intervention is effective. There is evidence to indicate that handwriting difficulties do not resolve without intervention and affect between 10-30% of school-aged children. Despite the widespread use of computers, legible handwriting remains an important life skill that deserves greater attention from educators and health practitioners.” (3)

“Handwriting is not ‘mechanical’ for many young writers. Each time they are faced with writing a letter they must construct anew a ‘program’ for constructing the letter. Because they are focused on letter construction, they have fewer attentional resources to devote to the meaning-making aspects of composing. Frequent, brief, explicit instruction that helps young children learn to automatize letter production and retrieve letter forms rapidly from memory may increase the probability that they will become skilled writers who use the building blocks of written language – letters – to construct quality written compositions.” (4)

“If young children have to devote large amounts of working memory to the control of lower-level processes such as handwriting, they may have little working memory capacity left for the higher-level processes such as generation of ideas, vocabulary selection, monitoring of the progress of mental plans and revising text against these plans.” (5)

“Handwriting, and in particular the automaticity of letter production, appears to facilitate high-order composing processes by freeing up working memory to deal with the complex tasks of planning, organizing, revising and regulating the production of text. Research suggests that automatic letter writing is the single best predictor of length and quality of written composition in the primary years.” (6)

The research and evidence is clear. Handwriting instruction is a critical component of a child’s early development, and students who struggle with speed and / or legibility of their handwriting face numerous challenges as they progress through the education system. So given the importance of handwriting, why has it taken a backseat in terms of education priorities? For our opinion on the answer, please click here to read the “ez Write” story.

1. Timbs. J. The Mirror of Literature Amusement and Instruction Vol. 5 J. Limbard, 1825

2. Graves, D. (1994). A Fresh Look at Writing. Portsmouth, NH, Heineman

3. Graham S., Bereninger, V., Abbott, R., Abbott, S. and Whitaker, D. (1997). The role of mechanics in composing of elementary school students: a new methodological approach. Journal of Educational Pyschology, 89.1, pp. 170-182.

4. Bereninger, V. W., et al. (1997). Treatment of handwriting problems in beginning writers: Transfer from handwriting to composition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89.1, pp. 652-666

5. Medwell, J. and Wray, D. Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know?, Literacy Vol. 41, Number 1, April 2007

6. Feder, K. and Majnemer, A. (2007), Handwriting development, competency and intervention. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, Apr; 49(4): pp. 312-317