Should our children still be taught handwriting skills? It seems that this generation will conduct most of their correspondence through emails and texts. But there is more to learning handwriting than you might think.

Remember learning penmanship when you were in school? For some, the letters seemed to flow right out of the pen — yet others struggled with their fine motor skills into junior high and beyond. Our kids are growing up in an era where keyboarding skills take precedence over pencil-holding skills. Is there still a place for handwriting instruction in schools?

Fine motor skills

Handwriting helps to develop fine motor skills that support reading and writing skills in the elementary years.

The simple act of holding a pen or pencil properly, guiding it along the paper and creating letters and words is no small feat. Your fine motor skills are being honed as your brain sends the signals to your hands. Will small motor skills be one of the casualties if handwriting is no longer required? Vita Nemirovsky, M.Ed., is an educational consultant, and a former special education teacher and supervisor. "Yes, handwriting still matters," she says. "Handwriting helps to develop fine motor skills that support reading and writing skills in the elementary years." Handwriting skills begin when your child first picks up a crayon and begins to draw, and continue to be honed over the years.

"Children develop hand strength and fine motor skills through play, and with the increased use of iPads and touch screen phones, they have fewer opportunities to master the skills needed for everyday tasks like buttoning clothes or tying their shoelaces," shares Amy Baez, pediatric occupational therapist and author. "Children also improve visual perceptual skills as they master drawing and writing skills," she adds.

An even deeper connection?

Some would argue that keyboarding is really accomplishing the same basic task as handwriting — and more effectively. "But if you think about the movements involved in keyboarding, each digit simply moves up and down," shares author Annette Poizner,Ed.D., RSW — a clinical social worker whose doctoral dissertation explored the psychology of handwriting. "In handwriting, the fingers will move in a myriad of directions, exerting various degrees of pressure. There is a function of calibration that has no equivalence in keyboarding. When it comes to brain development, the difference between keyboarding and handwriting is the difference between playing the triangle and playing the violin," she adds.

Stephanie Freeman is an English major and a professor who taught English at the college level for over 10 years. "I am very concerned about the changes in handwriting skills," she says. "For example, several schools want to eliminate or will eliminate cursive writing. They do not see a need for this 'outdated' mode of writing. However, I do not think educators are considering some key issues pertaining to writing skills," she adds. She worries about the loss of right brain or typically more creative skills when children are not taught how to make the artistic versions of their names and other words.

The art of pen and ink

calligraphy pen and inkMargaret Shepherd is an author, calligrapher and huge proponent of the art of taking pen to paper. "I believe that the handwritten correspondence is the gold standard of communication," she says. "But that doesn't make it the best choice in every situation, nor does it mean that we should write off the next generation because they don't use it as often as our own parents told us we should." She likens forming letters and words by hand to an art form, which we may have more time to pursue now that regular communication takes place quicker. "Think of scrapbooking and graffiti that help people express what's in them. And the rise in general of calligraphy as a hobby — a phenomenon of the last three decades — means that the alphabet is migrating from penmanship lessons into the realm of art and craft," she adds.

Yours is unique

Since our writing styles are unique, are we losing a special identifier that helps mark our distinctiveness from others?

One thing we lose by forgoing the handwritten notes and letters of the past is the unique "fingerprint" that we each bring to our writing. Most of us can quite easily pick out the handwriting of our parents, with the distinctive loops or jagged edges that makes their signature theirs alone. This is especially true of cursive writing — often taught in the third grade, but no longer required in some schools. Freeman wonders, "Since our writing styles are unique, are we losing a special identifier that helps mark our distinctiveness from others?"

While texting and email may constitute the bulk of our daily communication, the simple act of putting pen to paper and creating words still holds a place in our society. "Handwriting and our uses for it will continue to evolve. But what won't change is how warmly we respond to someone's writing whenever and however it is sent to us," adds Shepherd.

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