The NY Times published the article “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades” by Maria Konnikova discussing the topic many debate, does handwriting matter? In my opinion, it is not necessarily the debate for good penmanship and formal writing instruction, but instead, the process of writing and how that experience positively stimulates the brain.
“The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.
By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.
Dr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable.”
An interesting point made in the article is the difference in brain activity when children participated in free writing opposed to tracing the letters. I am not a fan of dot-to-dot/ tracing pages for letter writing instruction before the age of five due to it not being developmentally appropriate from a physical standpoint. According to the research presented in the article, there seems to be evidence that those worksheets do not support brain development either!
So, how then do we support handwriting and emerging writers?
For actual handwriting, allow for ample movement at home and school. Ensure infants get plenty of tummy time. Let your children climb and play outdoors. Turn off the screens and encourage them to crawl around on the floor and play with blocks, trains, cars, dolls or whatever they choose. Provide materials that strengthen the hand muscles such as puzzles, tweezers, tongs, or any type of manipulative material. By doing this, children’s bodies will be given the opportunity to develop and support the physical demands of handwriting.
As for the emerging writer, allow for plenty of scribbling, drawing, and appreciate the attempt at writing letters freehand when your child chooses to do so. Give your children blank paper and crayons, and let them draw until they are content. When they are finished, don’t ask, “What is it?”, but instead say, “Tell me about this”. Want to extend it further? Write what your child says and make sure he/ she watches you do so. What a powerful connection to see spoken words turn into written words and realize that text carries meaning!
With these developmentally appropriate approaches, children will be able to enter school with strong foundational skills to support successful writing!