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July 12, 2011 > Handwriting gets a makeover

Handwriting gets a makeover

Submitted By Lindsay Dolan

In today's fast-paced computer age, handwriting seems like a forgotten art ... but think again. While students are enjoying their summer days, local area educators are having fun in the classroom, using music and movement to learn how to teach an important, fundamental education skill-handwriting, in a fun, time-efficient way - quite different than the grueling repetition that most of us grew up with.

On July 8, interested educators, including several from the Newark School District, attended a workshop in San Jose to learn "secrets" to handwriting: all capital letters start at the top, mimicking a puppet to learn "magic" letter C, donning imaginary wet suits to learn the "dive" letters and singing songs with hand movements. This is all part of a "Handwriting Without Tears" workshop, an effective handwriting curriculum being taught locally and around the world.

Studies show, and many educators agree, that students who handwrite well do better overall in school. Even in this digital age, handwriting is the primary way students often communicate with teachers.

"Handwriting is a skill that is primarily learned prior to second grade but the benefits of handwriting extend throughout our entire lives," said Jan Z. Olsen, founder and creator of Handwriting Without Tears. "The truth is that learning handwriting is critical for honing coordination, building confidence and enhancing our ability to communicate. Think about how frustrating it can be to have to decipher an illegible note or signature."

Students who don't master neat letter formation are at a disadvantage which can impact a child's grade on spelling, math, and essay tests, even in the early years. And, data shows that student confidence and success can be related to handwriting. Some studies have even demonstrated that legible papers receive higher grades than illegible ones.

Illegible handwriting can be particularly detrimental during the handwritten section of the SAT and state standardized tests, many of which also require a handwritten essay section. While these exams aim to measure a student's written self-expression, it is imperative that the student's handwriting be both legible and efficient to score well. Quick writing allows more time for thinking, and fluent, readable handwriting can help ensure that graders properly understand a student's ideas.

"If scorers can't read it, how can students earn a proper grade?" say experts.

While there are new reasons to learn to handwrite, there are also improved methods of teaching this important life skill. For example, gone are the days of tedious repetition, practicing each letter starting with A and going through Z. Using the Handwriting Without Tears method, preschoolers learn about letters through songs, kindergarteners learn from a puppet and first through fourth graders can achieve good handwriting by spending only 10 minutes a day using other fun techniques. Additionally, the program seeks to boost kids' confidence by teaching the easiest letters first, eliminating unnecessary decorative strokes and stressing the most common letters.

The focus of today's handwriting lessons is mastering muscle control and improving legibility to improve a child's overall education. It is a critical life skill that has been an integral part of communication for as long as there has been recorded history. And there is no evidence that anything could ever completely take its place.

Tips for Parents of Pre-School and Elementary Students:

Do it correctly yourself - Remember that children learn by imitating you, so make sure that you are holding your pencil and forming your letters correctly.

Sit up straight - Make sure your child can sit with her feet on the floor and their arm can move freely wherever they write, at home or school.

Read - Show your children the importance of communicating through words.

Sing - When you sing the alphabet song, show your children the letters as you sing. Sing songs that use their fingers, like the "Itsy Bitsy Spider", for example.

Draw - Children who draw often, write better. For these youngsters, give them broken pieces of chalk or crayons to use. They will have no choice but to hold these small pieces correctly!

Move - Teach spatial words, like "under, over, top, middle, and bottom" by using visual representations. Put one hand under another, etc.

Go "Top Left" - Get children in the habit of going from top to bottom and left to right.

Give them little bites - Encourage children, even ones as young as nine months, to pick up small objects like tiny pieces of food, with their fingers. It will help to develop writing muscles and good coordination.

Play - Encourage preschoolers to use finger paints and sponges to strengthen writing muscles and reinforce coordination.

Ask - Discuss with your child's teacher what resources are available to help develop their skills.

For more information, visit

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