Why Handwriting Practice is still important in a digital age

Government research into attainment in schools shows that handwriting is the worst performing subject in Key Stages 1 and 2. Within these findings there was shown to be a significant gender gap with girls outperforming boys. According to the National Literacy Trust, by the age of 11, more boys than girls left primary school not reading (31% vs 22%) and writing (26% vs 17%) at the expected level for their age.

This government report came out before the pandemic, and lockdowns and gaps in school attendance have further impacted correct and effective handwriting practice. A reliance on using laptops to access online learning have undoubtedly made a difference. We are increasingly using digital devices in our everyday lives, and the need to master perfect handwriting seems to be something of the past. 

So, it can be easy to wonder if it really matters that children don’t seem to have a love for handwriting anymore. Afterall, they are just going to spend a lifetime typing, aren’t they? 

Well, there are many reasons to teach children proper handwriting. Firstly, having good handwriting is something that will instil confidence and pride in children throughout their life, after all – writing birthday cards, shopping lists, notes to a friend and so on will all require writing by hand. Children should not go through life ashamed of their illegible writing due to a lack of handwriting practice, as this could deter them from writing and affect their creativity.

Academically speaking, although few points are awarded for writing skills in tests or exams, they are still vital. If the person marking the test cannot read the handwriting, then this will affect the outcome. Not only that, but the child sitting the test or exam shouldn’t be slowed down or distracted by poor handwriting. There should be little conscious effort when writing, allowing for higher-level content to be written. 

Why handwriting is better for learning 

There have been studies that show the effectiveness and importance of handwriting as opposed to typing. The results have provided evidence that shows handwriting activates the brain more than typing on a keyboard because of the complex motor skills needed. Not only that but handwriting helps with reading fluency as it activates visual perception of letters. Handwriting actually slows down our mental processes and allows us to take in what we are writing as opposed to laptop typing which results in shallow processing. 

Instilling a love of writing

Despite the rather sombre research findings, there is a glimmer of hope. The National Literacy Trust found that there was a slight increase in the number of children writing for pleasure during the lockdowns. This was significant at the time as it has been shown that children who write for pleasure have increased mental health. This is understandable when you consider that writing stories, diaries and poetry is a way for children to express themselves and make sense of their own thoughts, feelings, and ideas. 

It is thought that lockdowns may have given children more time and space to think, and less pressure to write a certain way, without the worries of using connectives, clauses, adverbial phrases and so on. Just the art of writing without concern is a great release for many children and there is a strong argument that should be encouraged and supported within the classroom as well. 

The importance of supporting handwriting across the key stages

Children need to be taught handwriting across the key stages with an emphasis that these skills be used and further developed at home. The best way to engage a child in writing is to make it easy and achievable for them. Instilling a love and excitement for writing really is the key to developing a life-long writer. However, the journey from toddler to writer is long and involves more than just a good pencil grip. 

Writing across the key stages

Any teacher worth their salt knows that good handwriting starts in the early years with the development of fine and gross motor skills. It is vital that these skills are strengthened, as early as possible. Not easy when some children have missed a lot of school due to lockdowns, but there is a lot that can be done – playdough, fine motor activities, balancing, core strengthening through yoga, play, dance. A child who cannot sit up comfortably is going to find sitting at a desk and writing very difficult and will not be able to sit for long. 

At the primary stage, writing becomes more formalised and is practised more regularly. Children are asked to produce pieces of writing in the form of stories, reports, plans, and explanations. Posture and pencil grip must be corrected at an early age and correct letter formation should be practiced on a regular basis. 

The current pressures to teach children proper grammar and technical writing skills are all very well, as long as they do not put children off writing out of fear of doing it wrong or the plain fact that not everyone finds grammar interesting. Therefore, these prescriptive ways of teaching handwriting should be balanced out with creative and exciting opportunities to write, without fear of failure.

There are many resources out there, that aim to help children become writers. 

Here are a few of our favourites: 

  • The Literacy Trust should be your first port of call. They work as a charity to support schools and communities to improve the literacy skills of disadvantaged children. They have resources for all age groups as well as a Virtual School Library. 
  • Visit the library at least once a week. If your school has its own library, brilliant! Nothing can instil a love of literacy and writing more than the excitement of taking out a new book each week. If your school doesn’t, then try regular trips to the local library, or arrange for a mobile library to visit the school. 
  • Taking part in a writing competition is something that will excite and engage children in a school. This site has a comprehensive list of writing competitions for children aged 5-18. 
  • Sparklebox and Twinkl have many printable sheets for pencil control and handwriting practice. Not only this, but numerous templates to make books as well as themed borders for writing. 
  • Oxford Owl have a fantastic resource on their website – a breakdown of each key stage and links to tips on how to develop writing. These are useful to inform planning in schools and would also be great to share with parents.

Having regular opportunities to write is vital to help children develop handwriting skills, as well as a whole-school approach to writing. If children can see that writing is celebrated throughout the entire school, it will become important to them. It might be a good idea to develop a scheme where good examples of writing are shared – perhaps then younger children can aspire to be good writers and older children can help younger children to develop these skills. 

At SPC, we feel that handwriting is a vital tool in a child’s education. This is why we developed a number of pages that fit into bespoke handwriting exercise books to support pupils at primary level. Customise your handwriting exercise books to include pages such as useful spellings, the alphabet, key words and more. Our expert team will design anything you need. Request your free sample and information pack to discover how easy it is to create customised exercise books for handwriting or any other subject. Review our high quality page library and see samples for several subjects. Get Sample Pack