Have you looked at your child's handwriting recently? Do you struggle to decode their awful illegible scrawls on the page? A lower case b looks the same as a 6, if you can even ascertain that. 1's and 7's have been known to look the same. Is that a c or an o? It reminds me of my visits to the eye doctor. I'm heavily nearsighted. When I'm asked to read the eye chart, I guess "eh, that's either a C or an O or a Q-- an F or a P... or maybe a R?" Handwriting shouldn't be that hard to read! I can pull out a magnifying glass but I'm still not going to understand what they're writing.
I also noticed that many children form their letters "upside-down." They start from the bottom of the letter. I actually tried this method. I tried to write an entire sheet of "b's" to see if I could write a nice neat "b" with this method. I can't. I would like to think that I have nice handwriting. It didn't matter how hard I concentrated, I couldn't properly form a "b" -- or any other letter in this manner. Their handwriting is terrible. Students admit that they can't read their own handwriting. When students answer questions incorrectly, I ask the students to self-edit. The number one reason that students didn't get the answer correct was, "I couldn't read what I wrote." They answer half the questions wrong because they can't read their own handwriting. If they can't read it, I guarantee that no one else can!
In recent years, schools have dropped handwriting practice from the curriculum. The Common Core lists handwriting as one of those skills that 'can or should be taught.' In other words, it is not a priority. Each state can choose whether or not handwriting is included in their curriculum. More often than not, states and schools decide to drop handwriting from the curriculum. Many educators and institutions argue that (1) students "don't need handwriting practice" because they are using technology in the classroom and (2) there simply is not enough time in the school year to include handwriting practice.
We expect students to magically learn how to write. They are spending more time on devices. Thus, their fine motor skills are already less developed. Instead of coloring, they use a single finger to select and 'fill a color.' Instead of finger painting, they swish that pointer finger across a screen. I actually saw a "No-Mess Finger Painting" Activity/App on Pinterest. No mess? Excuse me? Finger painting is supposed to be messy. Painting is supposed to be messy. Crafts are supposed to be messy. Children are supposed to be messy. Yes, by handing a child a tablet, we are eliminating the mess. We are eliminating the clean-up. Their pointer finger is getting plenty of exercise, I suppose, but what about the other 9 fingers?? Humans are considered very evolved creatures because we have opposable thumbs. Will we no longer require them? Will we only require a very strong pointer finger in the future?
We don't teach students handwriting. We are not born with the ability to write. It is a learned ability. We don't provide students with enough opportunities to develop their fine motor skills. The result? We slap a new learning disability onto our children -- dysgraphia. It is, perhaps, a term that I hate more than any other term. Dysgraphia is a learning disability that causes poor handwriting, inconsistent spacing, and other handwriting difficulties. Typically, a child is diagnosed with dysgraphia because their handwriting is illegible and the child complains that writing makes their hand sore.
Illegible handwriting and writing difficulties can both be repaired with simple old-fashioned hand-writing practice. Plus, handwriting has so many more benefits. A recent article in Psychology Today asserts that research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience found that handwriting is necessary for 3-brain based reasons:
Poor handwriting inhibits children from excelling. I frequently listen to parents tell me that their child is frustrated because they can't write or struggle to read their own handwriting. They ask me if we accommodate this -- if I will let their child type all of their homework and classwork. No. I don't believe in taking dictations from children. I don't believe in speech-to-text programs. I don't believe in enabling. I don't believe in "note takers." I believe in practice. I believe in learning. If we continue to enable the child, to tell them that they don't have to write, they'll never be able to write. Handwriting is a necessary life skill.
AP Exams, the SAT, college finals, and mid terms don't provide scribes. They are not digital exams. If the child can't write legibly then they will simply fail.
The 'real world' doesn't provide scribes. As professionals, they will not be provided a scribe. Despite advances in technology, I personally guarantee that there will be moments in their professional careers that require legible handwriting.
I actually received an incorrect prescription from the pharmacy once. The prescription was so messy that the pharmacist took their best guess. Fortunately, they had to call the doctor to see if substitutions were permissible. At that point, they discovered that they read the prescription wrong.
I used to work as a waitress. At the end of the night, I found myself taking the "best guess" I could muster to input the credit card tips. How much did they mean to tip me? Is that a 1 or a 7? a 4 or a 9?
I've received sticky note messages from receptionists that I'm sure have lost me customers. What's this say? What's their name? What number is this? In the end, I'm unable to call the customer back. I have no idea who called.
I receive other people's mail on a regular basis. Some of this is surely the fault of the post office and other delivery services. However, some of it can certainly be blamed on the illegible handwriting.
So, how do you teach your child to write legibly?
I put together a series of handwriting practice worksheets. If your child is learning to write, for the first time, then I would recommend starting with the Large Size worksheets. If your child "knows" how to write, but is forming their letters incorrectly, then I would recommend starting with the Medium Size Worksheets. Each week, students should complete on worksheet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Alternatively, the child can complete one worksheet of each of the following days: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
It is MUCH easier to start handwriting practice with a child that is just learning their letters. In this case, you are training them to write correctly. Furthermore, it is imperative that you begin to develop your child's fine motor skills at an early age. The hours that a child spends staring at an I-pad rather than more traditional 'old school' activities such as coloring are inhibiting their brain from developing properly.
A child that has been writing for years needs to be 're-trained.' This is much harder. They're likely to follow the arrows on the worksheet. However, they will also likely revert to their self-taught writing style when the arrows and dots are no longer present. Practice. Practice. Practice. I've seen this work miracles for students.
You MUST sit with your child while they complete this worksheet.
If your child is learning to write their letters for the first time, start with Level 1 - Large Print.
On day one, the child traces the letters (with arrows). Make sure that your child follows the arrows.
On day two, the child traces the letters (with arrows) on the first two lines. Then, they trace the dots. The child should continue to form their letters in the same manner.
On day three, the child traces the letters (with dots) on the first two lines. Then, they form their own letters. They should start at the dot.
Complete the entire "level." Then, move to the next level. The next level contains similar practice worksheets. The font size is smaller.
If your child has some practice writing letters but still struggles with letter formation, start with Level 2 - Medium Print. This is typically appropriate for a student in ~Kindergarten.
If your child can form their letters but their writing is still illegible and/or they struggle with handwriting then start with Level 3 - Small Print. Students will practice spelling (~2nd or 3rd grade level) through handwriting practice. Then, move on to Level 4 - Very Small Print to develop a stronger vocabulary and more precise handwriting skills.
So, how do you actually convince your child to complete these worksheets?
If your child is learning to write for the first time then you probably won't encounter a lot of resistance. You should make sure that they are working on their fine motor skills through other activities -- coloring, sewing, painting, tracing, lacing, beading, crafting, puzzles, etc. This will help minimize the "hand hurting" that children complain about when learning to write or writing for extensive periods of time. Remember, these are short worksheets. It shouldn't take them that long to complete. However, it is absolutely necessary that they follow the arrows. They need to continue to form their letters this way on all of the worksheets. The goal is NOT to "finish tracing." The goal is to learn how to properly form all of their letters.
After a few months, they are proud of the work that they are producing. Many students run into class to show me their legible, organized notes on a weekly basis.
Consistency is key.