I used to think handwriting was only important in that it improved presentation. My theory was that neat handwriting would encourage the child to take a greater sense of pride and satisfaction in his/her writing – leading to the production of more! This theory, I am sure, is not incorrect – but is only part of a much larger picture. I was very interested to read Bonnie Macmillan’s comments about handwriting, because they tie in exactly with my own observations.
The ability to form letters automatically, fluently and correctly is fundamentally important to foster writing skills in the child. Synthetic phonics teaching is extremely effective for teaching children to read and spell. We must ensure that this is balanced with plenty of practice of correct letter formation. I believe ‘copy writing’ and ‘emergent writing’ as emphasised in the DfEE Curriculum guidance for the foundation stage are not nearly so helpful as precise and correct letter-writing practice. Too much copying of labels in a child’s own style will create bad habits – all of which must be undone at some stage. I think the correct pencil hold reinforced in the foundation stage is also vital. By Year 1 bad habits can already be ingrained and very difficult to change. Say “…froggy legs on the bottom of the painted part…” [thumb and forefinger], “…then sit on the log…” [middle finger supporting the pencil]. Thick pencils are much more difficult for children to hold comfortably than regular thickness. Try holding a giant joke pencil – it is very awkward!
I cannot recommend highly enough the joined writing style which has ‘leaders’ for all lower case letters. This style is known to be very dyslexia-friendly and is particularly easy to teach to young children. Include with this the looping of tails (I always emphasise “…straight down and thin loop…”), so the whole word can be written in one movement. This also helps to establish the automatic hand movement of ‘written’ letter-strings.
For practice, the children start with all the ‘curly c letters’: c a d o g s f qu
When the writing of these letters is thoroughly automatic, I introduce the rest of the alphabet and insist on joined writing from then on. I encourage a ‘diagonal join’ to the top of the shorter letters and half way up the taller letters. This spaces out the letters beautifully. All lower case letters “…start on the line…” and all capital letters “…start from the top and don’t join…”. When children learn this style, their handwriting is transformed, and they are really encouraged to write copious amounts. Everyone comments on the handwriting of my Year 1s and Year 2s, and the children do indeed take great pride in their work!