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Handwriting is an Intellectual Activity

Handwriting is an important intellectual and physical skill that we are in danger of losing unless schools increase the amount of handwriting in class, especially in the early grades. This sorry situation will not improve unless teachers actively teach handwriting in the classroom and correct the way students hold their pens and pencils.

More areas of our brain are used to print using a pencil than to type on a keyboard. And more areas to write in script than to hand-print.

There have always been children with poor handwriting but the quality of teaching over the last fifty years has improved dramatically. And yet, the number of children with poor handwriting and underdeveloped fine motor skills is significant and increasing. This is due to the time spent on keyboards.

Hand strength and occupational therapy for children

The number of children needing occupational therapy has increased because they lack the optimum strength in their hands. Children lack the ability to use a basic pincer grasp to pick up small items. Increasing numbers of students can’t use the ‘dynamic tripod grasp’ to hold a pencil.

The illegible handwriting of senior students can’t be read by examiners. Many lack the strength in their hand to endure three hour exams.

Changing the brain through thinking and doing

We can create new neurological pathways through actively thinking and participating. This can create a new brain map in the individual. It can lead to axonal myelination. Myelin is the insulating material that wraps around axons – the neurological pathways – and nerves. Myelin responds to what an individual does. It responds to how the individual has practised, how often and for how long.

Knowing this should enable parents and teachers to see the possibilities for children’s learning. In the case of writing, early practice in forming letters in time-proven ways begins that map making process. Practising printing and copying letters and words reinforces the direction the child is taking. And practising handwriting in script in upper primary school is important because it is more creative than hand-printing. All this practice “leads to axonal myelination” which leads to new neurological pathways. This is why handwriting should be seen by teachers and parents as an indispensable part of a child’s intellectual development.