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Handwriting Needs a Hand


Q. Kids today don't have good penmanship. But so what? They use keyboards. Isn't handwriting obsolete?


Hardly. Penmanship has gotten a bad rap lately. It's hardly ever taught for any length of time in school. You see children in second and third grades still grasping their pencils in their fists, and suffering strain and fatigue after just a few minutes. No wonder! There's a trick to holding the pencil, and if you don't teach a child the right way, you're asking for trouble.


Yes, handwriting is an academic skill that is as basic as reading and writing.


Why? Because it builds important mental skills and eye-hand coordination. Keyboard typing doesn't even come close to the mental benefits that learning to use proper penmanship provides.


The point isn't to produce perfectly-shaped and aligned letters, although good handwriting is one of those classic self-esteem builders, like a good singing voice and foot speed. The real value isn't in what's produced on paper, but what's produced in the child's mind:


n       Practice with penmanship builds eye-hand coordination. Typing provides little or none of this. But the skills that come from forming letters precisely will pay off in school, work and life. Think: mechanics, doctors, engineers, artists, pilots. . . .


n       Good penmanship also builds self-control, with good posture, the proper positioning of the paper on the desk, and the correct alignment of the pencil in the hand. Good handwriting requires mental and physical discipline.


n       Many children today hold a pencil in their fists or other wacky positions because they were never taught the proper position. Consequently, they get tired of writing after just a few lines.


n       Handwriting allows a child's personality and individuality to shine through, which is important and valuable. A child may express words and ideas better in his or her own "hand" because it feels unique and creative. Typing, by contrast, looks machine-generated and conformist, because it is.


n       Spelling, sentence structure and overall writing quality all improve. When you are taught to take care forming individual letters, that same habit of caring spreads to how letters come together into words, and words into sentences and so forth. Diligence starts in those early grades. It's crucial.


n       Taking care with handwriting teaches concentration.


n       You can't "hide" misspellings when the handwriting's good, so teachers don't miss them.


Homework: Parents can help all children a lot by going to school officials and asking for more of an emphasis on proper penmanship skills in the early grades. Meanwhile, you might want to "do it yourself" if your school skimps on handwriting instruction. A school supply store should have beginning penmanship paper and a copy of the Palmer Method, the best handwriting curriculum ever, for at-home practice.


By Susan Darst Williams Writing 11 2008


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