Quick, before you read this article, write the answer to this question: What is your favorite month of the year?
If you had a paper and pen in front of you, chances are that answering that question took you about two seconds. Easy, right?
Actually, what you just did was pretty complex! And, if you have a child who struggles with writing, you would know that there is a lot that goes into putting a pen to paper and writing even a simple word like “June.” Your brain and body work closely together to make the letters appear – you need to pick up the pencil, hold it steady, remember the month you wanted to say, think about what the letters look like and in what order, move your wrist and fingers in the right way to shape the letters, follow the letters with your eyes, and press with the correct amount of pressure on the paper so you don’t rip it, but the ink still gets on the paper.
The Value of Handwriting
With the ubiquitous use of computers today, it’s hard to immediately understand why handwriting is important. Who cares if your child can’t write a sentence if he can type it? On the surface that seems like a pretty legitimate argument; however, there are a few reasons why we still care about handwriting even though there is less of it required at our jobs today.
- Writing forces you to use your memory. When you write something down, you are forced to remember both what you want to say and how you are supposed to spell it. This mental exercise helps your brain stay in shape and develops your memory skills.
- Reading and writing are integrally linked. Reading and writing complement each other and we become better readers through writing and better writers through reading. As kids grow older and start to use a keyboard, the motor control and communication skills they have gained through writing will help them transfer their thoughts into words.
- Writing is still needed for note-taking. While some schools incorporate tablets and laptops into the classroom, most students are still required to take notes by hand. This process not only helps students focus on the material at hand, but also drives them to make meaning of what the teacher is saying. For those students who struggle with handwriting, this lack of note-taking can affect their grades and their self-esteem.
Not Just Sloppy Letters?
Children develop at different rates – they say their first words, take their first steps, toilet train, read their first word, and lose their first tooth at different times. The same goes for handwriting. Some children have trouble learning the direction the letters go in, others wrestle with writing neatly, some struggle with writing within the lines of the page. These are all normal problems and, with time and practice, can resolve themselves.
That said, there are some handwriting issues that can be a symptom of something larger. If a child is suffering from a disorder, struggles with handwriting may be one component of it. Below, I’ve outlined some conditions that can affect a child’s ability to develop correct and proper handwriting:
- Visual and auditory processing disorders. These disorders can cause difficulty with word pronunciation, spelling and sentence structure. A visual processing (or perceptual) disorder refers to an inability to make sense of information absorbed through the eyes. This does not mean that the child has trouble with sight and needs glasses, rather it involves difficulty processing the visual information in the brain. Reading, writing, and math are areas that can be severely affected by this disorder because these subjects rely heavily on symbols (letter, numbers, signs).
An auditory processing disorder can interfere with a child’s ability to learn, regardless of his or her intellect. This is because it interferes with a person’s ability to make sense of information taken in through the ears. This does not mean that the person cannot hear or is deaf. Rather, the sounds enter the ear and the brain, but the person cannot understand what they mean.
- Dysgraphia.Dysgraphia can manifest itself as difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper. However, children who suffer from dysgraphia often have reading skills that are on par with other children their age. It is not simply a motor problem, it also involves information processing skills (transferring thoughts from the mind through the hand onto the paper). Dysgraphia is a biological disorder with genetic and neural bases, which in fact deals with a working memory problem. Working memory refers to the system in your brain that processes transitory pieces of information that you are in the midst of manipulating. In dysgraphia, people fail to develop connections between the regions of the brain needed for writing.
- ADHD.Children who have ADHD have trouble sitting still, focusing on one thing at one time, and attending to details. While their attention seems unfocused, it is rather multi-focused. Their mind takes in multiple stimuli at once, making it hard to engage in one activity for long periods of time. For this reason, writing can be difficult and frustrating.