Kristen asks: “I work at The Hill
Center in Durham where we follow a research-based methodology for
individualized instruction. Handwriting is a component for our younger
students who are in need. We are also beginning to consider and
incorporate various technologies in our instructional practices. With
the increasing onslaught of technology to facilitate handwriting and
written expression, should the focus on fine motor skill development
take a different route in the schools? How important is the focus on
traditional handwriting vs. instruction on use of technological
supports (keyboarding, voice-recognition software, etc.)?
Even in this age of increasing technology, there is still a place for learning to write by hand. Although not as necessary as it once was, it certainly makes getting through school and managing adult life easier. In school, math is better done by hand, and it is very helpful if students can write down legible assignments, write brief messages, and take some notes. Except in rare situations, where a student demonstrates severe dysgraphia (dysfunction in written language – particularly mechanics), my goal is for students to be able to comfortably and legibly write one page in a reasonable amount of time. For longer assignments, the use of technology is totally appropriate.
It is also very helpful for students who are struggling to separate handwriting from composition. Therefore while developing the student’s handwriting skills (practicing letter formation, etc.), composition writing can be done through the use of technology or by dictating to a scribe.
It should be noted that many of the foundations for handwriting should have been established before elementary school. The foundations for writing start young:
Infancy: Spending daily time on the stomach, with weight bearing on hands and ultimately crawling on hands and knees helps develop the arches of the hand which supports the eventual development of a mature pencil grip.
Preschool: Children establish a dominant hand and achieve separation of the two sides of the hand (skilled and support). Children learn to draw horizontal, vertical and finally diagonal lines, as well as basic shapes, providing a foundation for forming letters. Working at an easel helps support mature grip development, as does working with simple tools such as tongs or tweezers.
Kindergarten: This is the time to begin systematic instruction of printing paying careful attention to children learning correct formation. Handwriting Without Tears is the program we usually use at Emerge. Most programs begin with upper case letters first, as they are generally easier to form. Some children will benefit from the use of a molded pencil grip if they have not developed adequate foundations.
First Grade: Continued instruction in letter formation, with greater focus on the lower case letters.
End of Second/Third Grade: Systematic instruction of cursive handwriting. Many children will be faster and more fluid with cursive. A program like Making It Legible can be very useful for helping children to develop self monitoring skills.