Lately, I’ve been reading about handwriting myths and looking into the research behind them. Some are so silly that it is a wonder we have children writing these days.
Now this is the time to tell the truth. This article is here to dispel those handwriting myths, fables, rumours and plain lies about handwriting. Giving you the knowledge, further helping your child learn how to write.
Are you ready for these handwriting myths? They really are the good, the bad and the ugly.
Myth 1: To be good at handwriting you need to have good hand strength.
This is wrong! Handwriting is about having precision when using our fingers. The only three fingers we need to use when writing are your thumb, index and middle finger. According to research by Alaniz M. et al hand strength is not needed. So we can be forgetting hand and finger gym activities that look to be all about having a power grip.
Myth 2: UK primary schools have to teach kids cursive handwriting.
This is definitely one of the biggest handwriting myths that needs to be immediately stopped.
The national curriculum teacher assessment framework advises that children in their primary years should join letters. It says in:
- KeyStage 1 (KS1) – Working at greater depth “use the diagonal and horizontal strokes needed to join some letters”.
- Key Stage 2 (KS2) – Working at expected standard “maintain legibility in joined handwriting when writing at speed”
Furthermore, there is no mention of cursive writing.
Primary schools should be teaching joined up handwriting. Joined up writing is one where there is a ‘kicking’ out letter stroke. This is so it is ready to join the next letter. Cursive writing or continuous cursive, as it can be called, is one where there is a ‘flicking’ action at the front of the letter and a ‘kicking’ stroke at the end of the letter. For children who are finding cursive writing difficult. This is great news, joining the letters without a ‘flick’ at the beginning is allowable.
Myth 3: Plastic pencil grips work.
Not in my experience. By sticking a brightly coloured plastic grip on a pencil only highlights a problem to other children. In one school I have even seen triangular pencil grips being placed on triangular pencils. This is a real no no.
There are many ergonomically designed pencils and pens that work just as well as a pencil grip. The pen company I favour is Stabilo. They have really thought about how a child holds a pencil and how to keep these instruments looking fun.
Another favourite of mine is to place stickers on a pencil. Firstly, ask your child to choose two stickers that are 1cm in diameter. Next, these get placed on a pencil where the thumb and index finger should go. As a rule, this technique works just as well as any plastic pencil grip.
Myth 4: Messy handwriting is a sign of a bigger problem
No, there can be any number of reasons why a child is finding handwriting difficult.
It can be how they are holding the pencil/pen. How they are taught in terms of style they are trying to be reproducing. By this I mean the differences between joined up and cursive handwriting. Alternatively, how motivated they are.
Yes, there is a link between handwriting and learning. If someone finds handwriting difficult it will mean they will struggle to answer handwritten questions in school. This only means they find handwriting difficult not that there is necessarily a bigger underlying issue.
Myth 5: People do not judge you by the quality of your handwriting.
UNFORTUNATELY they do, it is similar to poor cutlery skills. People do notice this.
I have a parent of a child that I see who was recently declined for a job based on his handwriting. Imagine that, in this day and age. Also, I’ve had employers ask me to work with employees because they felt poor handwriting was a bad reflection of the professionalism of their company.
Handwriting was even commented on when the cricket captain, Joe Root, was being asked what is Ben Stokes not good at? Yes, you’ve guessed it handwriting.
Myth 6: All letters take the same amount of effort to learn.
I’m afraid not. Research By Puranik C. et al says writing the letters z, c, j, q & g are the most difficult. This is especially true for 3 to 5 year olds.
Myth 7: Learning to write using a hexagonal pencil is best.
Not really. It is what a child feels most comfortable using.
There is a really old piece of research dating back to 1986. It says if you give a child both hexagonal and triangular pencils, a child will always choose what they feel is the most comfortable to hold. Furthermore, we know when kids they feel comfortable they feel ready to try and write.
Why don’t you put both in a pot and see which one your child prefers?
Myth 8: Exam board markers will be sent your child's work through the post to mark.
This used to happen. Nowadays exam papers are often scanned onto a computer screen. Examiners are marking directly off the computer screen. Meaning if your child has reduced handwriting legibility they may be loosing out on valuable marks. The only way an examiner can be helpful when looking at handwriting is to zoom in and out.
Myth 9: Playing on an iPad doesn't help develop handwriting skills.
Wrong. Being wrong here is great news. Research by Axford C et al reveals an iPad helps when looking to improve handwriting. Although it does depend on the game being played. The games researched here were all motor developing games. They were aiming at improving fine motor finger skills.
I hope that you have found these handwriting myths helpful. To summarise, handwriting is not a sign of a bigger problem and it can be improved by playing iPad games and letting a child choose their own style of pencils. It’s as easy as that!
- Alaniz, M. L. et al (2015). Hand strength, handwriting, and functional skills in children with autism. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69.
- Alston (1986) The Effects of Pencil Barrel Shape and Pupil Barrel Preference on Hold or Grip in 8-year-old Pupils, Occupational Therapy.
- Axford C et al (2018) iPad applications that required a range of motor skills promoted motor coordination in children commencing primary school, Australian Occupational Therapy Journal (2018) 65, 146–155.
- Cricket reference: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/aug/25/ben-stokes-ashes-cricket
Puranik C. et al (2013) Dimensionality and Reliability of Letter Writing in 3- to 5-Year-Old Preschool Children, Learn Individ Differ. 133-141.