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Do We Still Need to Teach Handwriting?

Updated: Mar 12

In today's digital age, where keyboards, touchscreens and AI dominate our daily lives, the value of handwriting may seem diminished. However, the skill of handwriting remains an essential element of education, playing a crucial role in children's cognitive development and academic success. As educators, it's vital to recognise the significance of teaching handwriting in primary school classrooms.

There are four main reasons for teaching handwriting in the primary classroom.

Fine Motor Skills

Handwriting is a complex motor skill that requires the coordination of small muscles in the fingers, hands, and wrists. By practicing handwriting, children develop and strengthen these fine motor skills, which are essential for tasks beyond writing, such as using scissors, tying shoelaces, and manipulating objects. Improved fine motor skills contribute to overall physical dexterity and coordination, laying a foundation for success in various activities both in and out of the classroom.


Language Development

The act of handwriting engages multiple senses, such as touch, sight, and motor coordination, which are fundamental for cognitive development. When children learn to write by hand, they stimulate areas of the brain associated with language processing and memory. Research suggests that the physical act of forming letters by hand enhances learning and comprehension, fostering deeper connections between ideas and improving retention.


Brain Development

Recent studies have shown a correlation between handwriting and brain development. The physical act of writing activates neural pathways in the brain associated with learning and memory, promoting cognitive development and academic achievement. In fact, neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that handwriting engages more areas of the brain compared to typing, suggesting its unique role in cognitive processing.


Academic Success

Strong handwriting skills are closely linked to academic success across subjects. Whether it's taking notes, completing assignments, or expressing ideas in writing, proficient handwriting enhances students' ability to communicate effectively and demonstrate understanding. Additionally, research has shown that students who write by hand often outperform their peers who rely solely on digital devices in tasks such as composition and problem-solving.


So, now we have established how important it is to still be teaching our students handwriting, how do we do it? Here are some important things to remember when you prepare to teach handwriting to your students.

  1. Insist on good posture. Students should sit with their feet flat on the floor, their backs straight with relaxed shoulders. There should be room to place one hand flat between their body and the table.

  2. Finding the best writing tool. Traditionally we use pencil in the early years and by about Year 3 or 4 we start to introduce the biro. Whether you adhere to this or not is your choice or that of your school. Some students are more comfortable with other tools. The objective is neat, legible, fluent handwriting. If your student needs a purple pencil to do that, so be it!

  3. Don’t stop teaching handwriting in Year 3. There is usually a big focus on handwriting in the early years and as students get older and the curriculum gets overloaded, the teaching of handwriting loses its focus. It’s important to keep teaching handwriting throughout the primary years, developing speed and fluency and encouraging students to develop their own style of handwriting. Older students enjoy learning the basics of calligraphy and adding flourishes and flair into their own style.

  4. Encourage a comfortable pencil grip. The dynamic tripod pencil grasp has historically been thought to be the most effective and comfortable grip for young students. However, there is mounting evidence in handwriting studies that pencil grips do not influence handwriting speed or legibility in children.

  5. Strengthen and warm up fingers with fun exercises. Have your students isolate their tripod fingers, the thumb, index and middle fingers. Tuck away the ring and little fingers to create an arch. Ask your student to hold a small piece of paper under the ring and little fingers to keep them out of the way. There are some fun little exercises from YouTube you can do with your students, see below for some links.

  6. Begin your lesson with BIG movements. Ask your students to follow you with their fingers as you write the focus letter in the air. Have children use a sweeping movement with the entire arm, not just the hand. Then, without moving from their seats, have your students write with their finger, moving their whole arm, on the whiteboard, the window, the door, the ceiling. Make it big, make it little. Now add touch. Still with the finger, write on their desk, on the palm of their hand, on their partner’s back. Imprint the motor pattern with correct formation of the letter.

  7. Practise, practise, practise. A non-threatening way to practise letter formation in the very beginning is to use personal whiteboards. They can practise the letter without fear of making errors. Write and rub out, write and rub out, as many times as you like! Develop verbal cues for the formation of letters, for instance, for the letter “a”, you could say, “Start at one o’clock...around...up...and down.”

  8. Integrate handwriting instruction with phonics. While practising the letter formation students can be saying the sound the letter/s make. This will emphasise and develop strong connections between the letters and sounds for both reading and spelling skill development.

Finger Warm-ups

In conclusion

Teaching handwriting in this technological age remains crucial as it helps students develop motor skills and visual memory associated with letters and words. Engaging in handwriting activities like tracing, copying, and writing by hand helps with retention, recall, writing fluency, and ultimately improves spelling proficiency and written composition. These foundational skills are essential for academic success and are not adequately replicated by digital means, emphasizing the continued importance of handwriting instruction in education.

If you are looking for some help with beginning handwriting lessons in your classroom these resources from Bee Happy Teaching will definitely help you out.


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