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Psychologist in Sussex, England » Poor Handwriting
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Poor Handwriting


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Question: I have been told that my 7 year old son has dreadful handwriting, and that improving it is to be one of his targets in the coming year. Is handwriting so important: after all, most of us use a word processor as adults?

Answer: The answer is yes and no. You are right in saying that handwriting is only a tool, a means to an end without any intrinsic value – unless you want to become a calligrapher.

At the same time, fluent (swift and accurate) handwriting correlates highly with good spelling. For a fluent writer, each letter provides motor feedback and helps to cue the next letter (hence our need to write down a difficult word when we are asked to spell it). Further, when letters are remembered in ‘chunks’ it is easier to remember them. For example, if we write the word ’sigh’ as 4 separate letters we have 4 units to remember. If we think of it ’s-igh’ we have only two units to remember. However, we can only spell in chunks if we can write reasonably quickly. A child who labours over each letter will never manage this.

Secondly, if handwriting and/or spelling require a high level of effort, the child has less attention to spare for the other aspects of writing: the development of ideas, punctuation, grammar, organization etc.

Lastly, work that looks messy – my heart aches for children who produce three grubby lines in 10 minutes – is not rewarding. The result is that the child loses the motivation to write, and therefore does not develop this skill.

My answer is therefore that reasonably fluent handwriting is important to spelling and to writing text. For most children it is not too difficult to achieve this, but if your son is finding it exceptionally hard you should query whether he may have a form of dyspraxia affecting handwriting skills. In this case, he will need special teaching support, and may benefit from using a word processor from an early age.


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