On the teaching of handwriting

I’m writing this both as a parent and as a follow up to a previous post concerning roleplay in schools. You may ask what is the relationship between handwriting and roleplay? Well, I suppose I’m asking a wider question – what are schools really for?

When my son was in Reception, my wife and I were concerned about his letter formation. We told the teacher about it. She assured us it would be alright – he’s a boy after all – he just needed some time. She gave us some photocopied sheets of letters to practice at home .

When my son was in Year 1 we were concerned about his handwriting. We told the teacher about it. She told us that it was early days and he just needed some work on his hand strength and motor control.

When my son was in Year 2 we were concerned about his handwriting. We told his teachers. They told us there was still time. The important thing was getting him to write in sentences for his SATs. He was assessed at level 2B in writing, despite being level 3 in everything else. His handwriting had held him back apparently.

When my son was in Year 3, the teacher told us she was concerned about his handwriting. She implied that we hadn’t done enough as parents and we should be supporting him more at home. We too were concerned about his handwriting, but now we learnt that it was our fault, we gave him writing exercises and paid for piano lessons to build up his hand strength some more.

When my son was in Year 4, the teacher told us she was concerned about his handwriting. She put him in a small group so that during times when the rest of the class were doing something he was already good at (like reading, or maths), he could practice his handwriting. By the end of of Year 4 we were less concerned about his handwriting.

When my son was in Year 5, the teacher told us that our son was the best writer in the year group, but he did sometimes forget his capital letters and full stops. She didn’t mention his handwriting.

As parents we made the mistaken assumption that during his first years at school he would be taught handwriting.

As a teacher I know it is easy to assume that things like handwriting will just sort themselves out.

As a child educated in the 70s, I went to a school that, whilst it hadn’t completely sold itself out to ‘discovery learning’, it didn’t teach things like pencil grip or handwriting. My handwriting is pretty dire as a consequence.

In following up that post I mentioned on roleplay, my question is what are schools for? Should they ensure that children are brilliant at handwriting? Or should they make up for the lack of open-ended play that takes place in the modern home by focusing more on roleplay? Do I sound too much like Michael Gove if I suggest that schools should focus on academic skills such as handwriting, reading, mathematics, to the detriment of play?

In fact, I don’t think this is what has happened in the case of my son. I don’t think it was a war between play and academia. I think the school focused heavily on their needs to have my son perform well in various assessments – maths, reading or writing, and unfortunately handwriting is an insignificant part of the writing assessment.

3 thoughts on “On the teaching of handwriting”

  1. I am passionate that we need to teach handwriting much better in schools in the early years (and then reinforce it in the later years) than is generally current practice.

    I work hard to promote the teaching of writing well, print first and joined writing from about Year 2 (in a quick, focused way – not dragged out over months and years).

    I promote desks facing forwards for basic skills lessons – and I promote the use of desks and paper and pencil practice even in Reception classes.

    But sometimes whole schools are against the use of paper – and mini whiteboards prevail everywhere in the early years and in later years.

    Little children are expected to learn the complex and delicate skill of handwriting sitting cross-legged on the floor with chunky pens which they cannot grip well and balancing whiteboards on their knees.

    Any sense of using desks, or desks facing forwards to aid posture and directionality, is associated with ‘formal’ teaching which implies draconian or Victorian teaching.

    Quite frankly, our education system is a little crazy right now.

    I have also added ‘handwriting’ into the core skills for the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics which the government failed to include.

    I provide free handwriting materials, guidance patter and video footage via my handwriting website.

    Warm regards,

    Debbie

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