Is Handwriting Dead?

Handwriting

I sat across from a set of parents at an IEP meeting. Nice people- no horror stories of anger, frustration, or possible litigation. Just an average conversation about a child I recently began working with in a school setting.
My responsibility was to take over the goals of a previous OT, you know the ones that have like 7-8 different goals nestled into one frustrating, difficult to track run-on sentence? Yeah, we’re all guilty of that at some point. Regardless, the conversation was all about handwriting.
The father, quiet and reserved for the most part of the meeting, speaks up to say, “but is handwriting really a necessary skill in this day and age?”

You know how I love skeptics, but this general question is coming up more and more in my practice:

“Is handwriting really a necessary skill?”  -Goodness, yes.

“Do we really need to know how to write legibly?” -Holy cow, yes.

I’m not oblivious to the fact that our world is increasingly digital. Even the act of printing things out- who does that anymore? Almost everything is online, digital, and right at your decreasingly dexterous fingertips.
And while this is all fantastic and convenient, you can’t deny the impact of this sort of technology on kids’ developing brains. While that’s a whole other can of worms, I would just like to mention that many kids are missing out on developing a very specific and important skill set that comes along with writing.

With that being said, I urge you to look at the SKILL of handwriting over the concept of writing itself: (Hint – It’s chock-full of goodness.)

Handwriting Requires:

-Fine motor skills: Dexterity, Precision, Coordination, Grasping

-Visual motor/Oculomotor skills: Eye teaming, Convergence, Scanning

-Behavioral skills: Attention, Focus, Creativity

And that’s just scratching the surface. Yes, I know there are alternatives out there for children that can’t quite find a functional written form of communication, and that’s wonderful. But does that mean we throw out the rest? Should we pretend that handwriting never happened because something else is more convenient? Ok, I’m not THAT old, but I’m sounding like my great grandparents here.

So here’s my public service announcement: Please don’t overlook the process of handwriting and what that means for a child’s development.

Writing can be both a representation of necessary skill mastery (i.e. a proper grasp = able to button a shirt, tie shoes, or open containers to prepare a meal).
OR, it can be a window into underlying delays in skill development (i.e. poor handwriting can reveal visual motor integration issues, vision issues, behavioral/emotional issues, etc.).

If handwriting is dying, then let’s revive it. At least advocate for its existence. Don’t pull the plug, because I’m afraid of a society that doesn’t know how to write.

P.S. Please pretend you didn’t just read this typed out post on an electronic device…

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About TheAnonymousOT

Pediatric Occupational Therapist
This entry was posted in Occupational Therapy. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Is Handwriting Dead?

  1. Kacey says:

    Well said!

  2. Aught says:

    I like your posts and thinking!
    I was at an IEP this week, and had to summon up the energy to explain to the teacher and the SLP and parents, why I felt it was important for non verbal, a child to learn to write, at least simple worlds. The teacher did not seem invested in it. (Technology fails sometimes, it is expensive, and picture him laying in bed as a senior, maybe it will give him a fighting chance to relay his needs, when the expensive tech item is not available).

  3. Pingback: OT Corner: Is Handwriting Dead? | PediaStaff Pediatric SLP, OT and PT Blog

  4. Regina Navia says:

    If it’s dead in school (I was a school OT for 16 years) it’s most definitely dead in an outpatient pediatric rehab setting. Duplication of goals are not allowed as we know. If the school OT doesn’t address handwriting, I’m still not able to write a h/w goal in rehab because insurance companies designate the goal as school based and not medical. Who looses here? The children.

    • Regina, that’s a good point. I was fortunate to have been both a school-based and a clinic-based pediatric OT. I found that, in the clinic, if I remained true to the reasons WHY OT’s work on handwriting – fine-, visual-, and gross-motor skills, cognitive skills – then I could include handwriting improvement in my sessions by adding goals that I mentioned above. I didn’t mention HW but, in the end, their HW skills improved because I was providing OT services that addressed the underlying skills, not HW services. Even in my private practice, where I specialize in the assessment and remediation of children’s HW skills, I write OT goals that address those underlying skills I mentioned, not HW skills. I include HW “practice” at the very end, or in the session as part of those other goals. Those are the goals we, as OT’s, should be writing anyway, aren’t they? I hope this helps you to see that you ARE working on their HW skills! Best of luck with your work!

  5. Susan Matherly says:

    In not emphasizing handwriting, I think there is another huge downside that I don’t often hear mentioned. The act of writing down information is very helpful to the kinesthetic learner, as well as additional input for the visual learner. There is no doubt, in my personal experience and experience with my children, that writing information makes it easier to remember. Research would have to be done, but my gut feeling is that typing information would not have the same benefits.

  6. Bianca says:

    thanks for your sharing! though this is very different in the oriental world, asian culture addresses a lot in handwriting (esp in young age) teachers and parents focus a lot on handwriting while therapist like us need to explained a lot in the purposes of training performance components (e.g. precision grip, bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination etc) sometimes i even need to tell the parents “handwriting is not as important once they reached high school/ college”
    haha…isn’t it interesting? parents are going to the 2 extremes between the 2 sides of the world

  7. Hannah says:

    What is a reasonable age to start formal handwriting practice. We are looking at preschools for my daughter, and I was surprised that some of them were boasting about using HWT in their early childhood programs.

  8. kategladstone says:

    Of possible interest … The WALL STREET JOURNAL reports that smartphones and tablets are making handwriting MORE important after all … http://www.wsj.com/articles/handwriting-isnt-deadsmart-pens-and-styluses-are-saving-it-1423594704

  9. Tina says:

    I have really enjoyed the commentary on this subject as I often find myself questioning the goal of addressing handwriting when it forms part of the referral, but justifying it because of all the reasons mentioned.

    Personally, I think the skill of handwriting isn’t the end, but the use of hands for writing frees a child, and subsequently adult, to use this expressive median either in art form or communication; therefore it remains an agenda item. I don’t however, use therapy sessions to address the production of handwriting per se, rather to establish an ability to employ this as one of the daily living skills of being a child. Let’s face it, handwriting is variable to say the least. I know with my four children, there are some at which I despair at the end product yet all the foundational skills and techniques are in place – so what would I work on?? We would end up hating each other. One of my children has really poor handwriting but is a very good artist so to me he has mastered what he needs to with pen and paper.

    I like to concentrate on the skills that underpin handwriting, from the gross to the fine and give the children some space around the end product. I would hate to think that handwriting is dead; rather it needs to be given some life. Let’s resuscitate it rather than hang it!

  10. David says:

    Haven’t seen a post in awhile!…. Looking forward to hearing more insights…

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