Should children be writing by hand?

Some schools no longer teach handwriting skills, and choose to focus on embracing the latest technological advancements in their writing lessons.

How do we know that we are actually helping our children if we allow them to predominantly use computers and other devices?

Can we really say that children are well-educated if they can’t write using pen and paper?

Is it because technology-based writing is widely lauded through the media that pen and paper writing is becoming more and more unfashionable?

Laura Dinehart, an assistant professor of early childhood education at Florida International University, researches the development and early academic outcomes of children from 0 to 5 years and believes “that early writing skills can serve at least as an indicator of later achievement.”

In a study of over 3,000 preschoolers in Florida, Dinehart has discovered that 4-year-olds with well-developed handwriting skills are more likely to excel academically in elementary school.

Their ability to copy letters, numbers and shapes as pre-schoolers significantly predicted their results in standardised tests in second grade reading and maths, although the reasons for this as yet remain unclear.

The study is continuing to investigate why.

“We think it could be attention. We think kids that have greater attention skills could also have greater writing skills because they’re able to focus and they’re able to copy,” explained Dinehart.

Personally, I would expect also that many of these children’s families value education very highly, and that their parents or caregivers have provided them with strong support in all learning areas right through to the second grade. It will be interesting to see what the research shows.

I think Dinehart’s advice for parents of young children is excellent.

She advises them to provide their children with as many opportunities to engage with physical writing tools as possible, and to avoid getting swayed into thinking that electronic devices are more fun or educational.

She recommends providing a range of writing materials at home, such as paper, pencils, crayons, chalk & easel, and encouraging children to use them inside and outside, especially as part of imaginary play – eg, as ‘doctors’ writing prescriptions or ‘mums’ going shopping with a list.

She also stresses the importance of parents being good role models for writing – eg writing lists and notes for friends or family members by hand.

And she clearly states that if a child doesn’t want to write, they shouldn’t be forced to. Parents should keep providing the opportunities and the encouragement, and keep modelling.

Dinehart reminds us that what’s important here is the actual act of writing. We should not be talking about horrible handwriting or inaccurate spelling with little kids, but rather helping them develop a love of writing by writing for fun.

 

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