Is It Important To Teach Kids Joined-Up Handwriting In The Age Of The Keyboard?

14/08/2014 17:02 | Updated 20 May 2015

Is it important to teach kids joined-up handwriting in the age of the keyboard?

Of all the homework tasks that cause me to nag like a Fish Husband, handwriting takes the gold medal for grumpiness.

My sons, aged 10 and seven, are happy to read, happy to do do maths, happy to draw and paint and make, but they hate handwriting.

And it's causing quite a lot of friction in Housedad Towers. The reason for this is that we are a divided household as far as pen-to-paper is concerned.

My wife argues ferociously that the ability to use cursive - aka joined-up – handwriting is a fundamental life skill, whereas I argue passionately that the message is more important than the means of communication and both our lads are extremely deft at tickling the old keyboard.

Yes, even at their tender ages, they are as efficient and effective at typing as I was when I was the only boy in a typing class at the age of 15 because I had ambitions to become a journalist when I left school.

My handwriting? Atrocious. I could put any GP's spidery scrawls to shame. But I have somehow managed to make a living from the written word without barely having to pick up a pen.

OK, there are birthdays and Christmas cards to consider, and I have even managed to make my feelings clear in the occasional love letter or 'Thank You' note over time.

But I communicate better via QWERTY. I can type faster than I can write; I can express my thoughts and ideas via the medium of typography better than I can via a pen that always seems to run out halfway through a sentence or a pencil whose nib decides to snap at a punchline.

But my wife insists handwriting is not just important, it is vital.

Who's right? It's a fact that the written word, quite possibly more than anything else, facilitated an explosion in global communication.

Before handwriting, we humans told stories, passed on wisdom verbally. It was a limited form of communication that relied on the teller to not embellish the facts (which they did) and the listener not to get the wrong end of the stick (which they did, especially those whispering Chinese!).

But when writing came along, everything changed, the finest example being the Bible, even today, the world's best selling and most widely distributed book.

Here was a set of written-down morality tales that could be circulated around the world without their messages being confused (despite the fact that those messages have been twisted and corrupted time and time again to suit the purposes of those trying to have control over the masses).

Thus, handwriting shaped history. Fact. Through the Bible, the Koran, the philosophical teachings of Plato and Socrates and Shakespeare's Sonnets. From chiseling a message on a tablet of stone, or relaying a ditty on parchment via quill, handwriting was the bee's knees.

Until, in 1472, when William Caxton and Colard Mansion, a Flemish calligrapher, set up a press and Caxton's own translation of 'The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye' became the first book printed in the English language.

In 1476 Caxton returned to London and established a press at Westminster, printing more than 100 books in his lifetime, including Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales'.

The human need to communicate was the reason why printing came into being, just as it was the reason why handwriting came into being.

Just as it was the reason why Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist, wrote a proposal for a global communications system on March 12 1989 that would eventually become the World Wide Web.

OK, it hasn't replaced printing, hasn't replaced books, hasn't replaced newspapers and magazines, but the Web, plus printing, plus books, plus newspapers and magazines, has pretty much made handwriting redundant.

That's my argument anyway. And I'm not the only one who thinks it.

Writing in Tacoma's News-Tribune in Washington, U.S., columnist Bill Hall said: "Those of us who have long been humiliated by inept longhand-writing should be grateful that cursive is being pushed aside by keyboards.

"I can barely write in swirling ways that link all the letters together. I can enjoy other people's visual skills, but I can no more express myself in squiggly writing than I can sing or draw in ways that are pleasing to other human beings.

"The schools of my childhood required me to make a fool of myself using letters all lashed together in ways that quickly turned sloppy. Longhand writing was a skill that made artsy folks look great and the rest of us look hopeless.

"I suppose cursive still has some odd uses, but I will not miss it so long as I am able to speak to you through my liberating friend the computer. I cannot write in the fancy flourishes of yesteryear, but we can all write in perfect letters by tapping on a keyboard."

In a discussion about the subject on the website Debate, others argued that people with computer skills will be far more employable than those who can write cursively.

One wrote (using his keyboard): "Handwriting is not going to be used as much as it was in the past. Computers and typing are the basis of many professions.

"Why teach a skill children will never use? People won't employ people with nice handwriting, they will employ people with good leadership skills and potential."

Another added: "I am sure that the society in the future will be taken over by technology. Schools now should teach the students through technology."

And another went on: "I only use a pen and paper to scribble notes, all the stuff anyone else sees is typed. We didn't need to spend those countless hours perfecting penmanship at school because I have never used it since leaving primary school over 20 years ago."

But the arguments for handwriting are just as passionately delivered.

One said: "Handwriting has helped people all over the world communicate back in the day. Lots of kids are still trying to develop their signature to write cheques and to make documents official.

"Kids still write stories in class and without writing people would not know how to use their grammar when talking, and also with letters."

Another added: "The mastery of handwriting is dependent upon the ability of the writer to master a myriad of underlying skills.

"Posture, eye and head control, finger dexterity and strength, upper extremity strength, visual perception and visual motor skills, and visual skills (eyesight and beyond).

"A child who struggles with fluid and legible handwriting skills - the child for whom extra practise doesn't seem to make a difference - is more than likely to be experiencing challenges in one or more of those underlying skill areas.

"Handwriting mastery can be eliminated, perhaps, by technology. However, those underlying challenges cannot be ignored. They will interfere with reading, maths, science and learning in general.

"Handwriting is an integral component in learning and has been linked to success in school."

Handwriting therapist Ageeth Hup is a former primary teacher who helps children with writing difficulties.

She said: "Writing and using a keyboard are now both important life skills.

"If you look at the way kids develop, handwriting ability precedes keyboard skills. Writing plays a role in teaching kids how to read.

"Research shows that when you are forming a letter with a keyboard, you are not getting the whole multi-sensory experience of what a letter looks like.

"If they have traced it and copied it, or perhaps made it in Play Dough, they are more likely to recognise it, and that helps with reading. They can then move on to using keyboards later."

So what's your view? Answers on a postcard, please...

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