Students may soon not have to worry about dotting their I's and crossing their T's. As schools adapt their curricula to have a stronger focus on standardized tests, lessons in printscript and cursive writing are quickly becoming obsolete. Recognizing the real-world expectations of having superb keyboarding skills, schools are tossing out the number 2 pencils and including more lessons in typing. However, educational experts warn that the phasing out of handwriting instruction does not take into account the cognitive benefits of cursive and printwriting for children. Instead, neglecting to devote classroom time to handwriting can have consequences which can last throughout a child's school years and beyond.

A Shift in Focus

While many schools in the U.S. have expressed that they do not have the resources or instructional time to devote to handwriting lessons, it remains a part of the standard curriculum in many other countries. Dr. Richard Gentry, an expert in literacy education, explains that the lack of emphasis on handwriting is largely due to the pressure schools face to focus on standardized tests. In contrast, countries like Great Britain recognize the cognitive benefits of handwriting for children and continue to include it as a part of their standard national curriculum. As reported by the National Handwriting Association in Great Britain, England's 2014 national curriculum included mandates that all grade school children be taught transcription (spelling and handwriting) and composition.

Standardized tests are not the only cause for a decreased focus on the handwriting curriculum. Common Core, which has been implemented in 45 states, and Washington, D.C., gives schools the option to choose to include handwriting as part of their school's standards of education. Moreover, Common Core standards also allow teachers to use their own discretion in determining if they wish to include handwriting as part of their instruction. This variance in standards not only sends mixed messages to students and parents about the importance of handwriting, but also creates an atmosphere where certain children may receive more of an opportunity to improve their handwriting skills, while others may not. Fortunately for U.S. students, the pendulum appears to be swinging back, as lawmakers take action to re-institute handwriting into the classroom. Ten states have introduced or passed legislation that creates a statewide educational mandate for handwriting instruction. As Representative Pat Hurley, one of the sponsors of the bill in North Carolina, explains cursive writing is a "skill that's needed in the larger world and is thought to be a requirement for a well-rounded education." We do not have to create a dichotomy in which students can only be taught keyboarding or handwriting; Instead we must allow students to have the full advantages of being proficient in both skills.

Research

Cursive and print handwriting are about more than neat penmanship; research has shown that it has a direct correlation with a student's ability to articulate complex concepts and reading proficiency. Dr. Gentry says, "handwriting is primarily brain activation," and each skill "activates different parts of the brain." A 2014 study conducted by Dr. Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, further demonstrated the cognitive benefits of teaching handwriting to children. After studying children in grades two through five her research team concluded that "when children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas." Furthermore, Dr. Berninger found that teaching cursive handwriting has the potential to improve self-control abilities in students who are diagnosed as being dyslexic and/or dysgraphic.

But before you run to toss out your keyboard, Jan Olson, the founder and developer of the program, Handwriting Without Tears, emphasizes that there is a balance to be found between the time children spend typing and writing. While her company provides lessons to both students and teachers in the principles of handwriting, she says that there is also a need to teach keyboarding. Teaching the fundamentals of keyboarding is an important skill for children to have, but Olson says that keyboarding lessons are not universal. Instead, keyboarding lessons need to be taught to children in a "grade specific way." By incorporating handwriting and typing into a child's lessons, you are giving him the best of both worlds, and maximizing his learning opportunities.

If Your Child is Struggling with Handwriting

Even if your child is receiving handwriting instruction in the classroom, it is important that you play a proactive role in helping him outside the classroom. Here are five ways that you can help your child with their handwriting.

  1. Take Action

  2. Does your child use a fist to grip his pencil? Does he write his letters from the bottom of the page? Though the signs may be subtle, a child struggling with handwriting might also be struggling with other learning difficulties. Don't be afraid to speak with your child's teacher about how you can take a team approach to helping your child.

  3. Consult with a Specialist

  4. Instructors, like those at Handwriting Without Tears, have a tremendous amount of experience helping students struggling with writing. Even better, the programs often offer one-on-one attention, meaning that you can more quickly address your child's learning difficulties. If you're unsure of who to contact, speak with your child's teacher. It is very likely that she has referred other parents to a handwriting specialist.

  5. Make Writing Fun

  6. Handwriting practice doesn't have to mean hours of repetition and transcribing. Instead you should encourage your child to do activities that allow him to practice handwriting while also having fun. Writing a thank-you card or short letter to a family member or friend is an easy way for your child to practice his penmanship, while also brightening another person's day.

  7. Look for Interactive Games and Activities

  8. Put your child's computer and iPad time to good use and purchase apps and games that provide lessons in handwriting. There are many educator-approved apps which allow your child to practice the fundamentals and learn new skills. Handwriting Without Tears offers a wide variety of computer games targeted at different age groups. Even better, the game themes change weekly, so your child will continue to enjoy new and exciting lessons.

  9. Be Patient

  10. While it may be frustrating and disheartening to see your child struggling, your patience is one of the best ways that you can encourage him to keep trying. Like tying your shoes or riding a bike, handwriting takes a lot of practice. Just take a deep breath and remind your child it's all about practice, practice, practice.