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Handwriting Myths Exposed - January 15, 2010

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Handwriting Myths Exposed

By: Megan Eldridge, OTR/L
Handwriting Development Expert

Have you ever said, "Some children are just plain lazy when it comes to their handwriting. They can write nicely if they go slow and really try."

Many parents, teacher and other therapists who come to me say that their child or the kids they work with can write neatly IF they really try or IF they slow down.

Did you know that your brain is only able to focus on one complex thing at a time?

What's happening in the case of a child who struggles with printing or cursive is that writing is not automatic. As a result, children have to think about HOW to write and are unable to think about WHAT to write.

When the essential foundational skills are mastered (i.e. fine motor skills and fundamentals of writing) the concentration can then focus on what to write.

The foundation starts with fine motor skills

Fine motor skill development translates into proper pencil grip, which translates into dynamic movement of the pencil for fluency of writing.

The other foundational piece comes with a knowledge and understanding of the 3-basic fundamentals of good writing. They include:
  1. Letter formation
  2. Starting point
  3. Sizing and sitting letters on the line.


It is only when all of these skills are mastered that we see legibility AND speed together.

Sometimes kids are truly in a hurry because they want to get to recess, they want to be the first one done or they are only given a certain amount of time to finish their work.

Again, when they have these fundamentals in place their writing will not look messy even when they hurry.

Writing challenges are evident even in Kindergarten

In Kindergarten, children often struggle with handwriting because they aren't equipped with the foundational skills necessary to write well.

At this age if a child's handwriting doesn't look great, parents and teachers may simply think that the child will grow out of it. They do not see the struggle as a challenge, only part of development.

In this case, the challenges/symptoms won't become obvious to a parent until 1st or 2nd grade when the work load increases and their child begins to struggle to try and keep up.

This increased workload is when we start to see a breakdown and when children choose speed over legibility.

Teachers need to get on board with their level of expectation for legibility too. Remember, children will perform, or at least try to perform to the level of expectation set for them. We can't settle for less than legible handwriting. I didn't say perfect, just legible.

This is a fundamental skill that will be with that child all of their life. We wouldn't settle for lower than average reading or math scores so why settle for illegible or sloppy writing? That also goes along with learning cursive as well.

Cursive is a harder transition than learning to print

The myth that you have to master print before you can move on to cursive is just not true.

If a child has messy printing, most likely their cursive will be light years better.

BUT, here is the problem. Generally speaking, kids enter 3rd grade and begin to learn basic letter formation in the first semester. Then, perhaps in the second semester they are required to write their spelling words or small writing projects in cursive.

After that, it is all up in the air. Some teachers require the use of cursive and some don't. If children are not required to use it, guess what happens. They forget!

So, kids might learn cursive but they never become functional cursive writers.

Again back to the fundamentals. If the basic fundamentals of cursive writing are not automatic then they are back to thinking about how to write instead of what to write.

We have to facilitate bridging the gap between writing in print to writing in cursive, which takes time, encouragement, and skill

In order for cursive to be "functional” cursive writers, children must have to be able to write legibly with speed.

To see if you or your child or the child you are working with is using cursive functionally try this experiment:

Time yourself writing the connected cursive alphabet with your eyes closed on un-lined paper.

How did you do? If you were able to write legibility within 34-40 seconds you did it!

If not, how long is your bridge to "functional" cursive writing?

Now try the same exercise with the kids? How did they do?


To find out more about handwriting development, visit my blog at http://meganeldridge.typepad.com/megan_eldridge/

Featured Author: Megan Eldridge

Megan is a licensed Occupational Therapist (OTR/L), has a Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy (MOT) with a pediatric specialty and is a specialist in fine motor skill development for children 4 – 12, focusing on improving handwriting as the foundation for educational success.

Megan has been a featured speaker on childhood fine motor development and handwriting improvement for educational groups, State conferences as well as teaching other Occupational Therapists her methods.

Tags: January 2010 Newsletter OT Handwriting Article