Promoting penmanship in kids

Aug 4, 2009 at 11:32 a.m. ET

It is important to promote good handwriting in kids. The computer -- more accurately, the Internet -- has brought us so much. So much information, resources, power. But what it has taken away in return is penmanship. With so much being done by and on computers, we hardly need to write with a pen anymore, and it shows.

Boy writing with pencil

I may be dating myself, but when I was in elementary school, we earned grades for penmanship. Teachers strictly judged the clarity and quality of print and script. I was proud to get a handwriting award in sixth grade and used to spend hours practicing my writing; it was art to me (and yes, I was a geek). But even my own fairly nice handwriting has diminished over the last decade or so, with so few opportunities to write anything out by hand other than permission slips for school and occasional thank-you notes. People used to joke about the singularly horrible handwriting of physicians, but now it's almost everyone. And if we don't act, the next generation's handwriting will be even worse.

Fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination

As with most visual arts, handwriting is a combination of fine motor skills and well developed hand-eye coordination. When we use only a keyboard, we are using the arm and hand muscles in a different way than when we write by hand. The muscles need to be retrained to write well again.

That's provided, of course, those muscles were trained that way to begin with. My sons are showing classic symptoms of computer literacy and bad handwriting. They do so much schoolwork on the computer that I don't think that their hand and forearm muscles have been trained for writing. That the schools don't grade penmanship much anymore doesn't help.

Good pens and paper

My kids do like to draw though, so I always have a good supply of nice paper, pens, markers and colored pencils on hand. Encouraging the continued use of the hands in that very manual way may not result in perfect penmanship, but at least their writing won't slide backward anymore (like mine has). I also brought home a couple of books on calligraphy, and the kids occasionally try it out (with mixed results).

Practice, practice, practice

You don't have to be or become a calligrapher to get back to good handwriting or encourage it in your kids. You just have to practice whenever you can. Try writing a real letter, or challenge yourself to write out the grocery list in a very fancy way. Make the effort to practice writing, and encourage that same practice in your kids -- every day. Your hands and forearms may be a little sore the first couple of days, but as with any exercise, that will subside as the muscles get stronger.

Even with the advent of the computer age, handwriting still has a place in our world. Let's keep it legible!

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