• Hannah OT

To hand-write or to type...that seems the current question?

As a school OT I am constantly consulted and referred to for handwriting support. My personal belief is that many of the children who struggle with handwriting lack core strength, often have missed or experienced delay in their motor milestones, and have slipped through the net somewhere in their fine motor development (see more on this topic in my upcoming posts).

With increasing government pressure to get results, and the refocus of the national curriculum on handwriting, handwriting is a very prominent topic in most staff rooms, among OTs and headlined at the OT Show last week.

So should we still be teaching children to hand-write, or should we follow Finland and scrap it in favour of moving with the times? The resounding conclusion at the OT show was to continue as the list of benefits to children's development are endless!

The issue seems to be amidst all the pressure around child progress, the handwriting product becomes the focus rather than the process of getting there. It means that very often we as teachers are not detecting issues in the process of handwriting, allowing children to continue to form their letters incorrectly without correction because the product is legible. The research shows is that these children with legible but incorrectly formed letters will later go on to be unable to write at speed, impacting their progress at a later date. It is at this point that children are often introduced to word processing.

Word processing is an interesting topic, because to many, including me, it is assumed that getting a child to word process will solve all their writing problems and enable them to succeed. This is not true, in fact it has been found that the same writing issues are present when word processing - the speed is the same for example. While word processing produces legible writing, it does not provide the same kinaesthetic feedback as handwriting and therefore does not promote motor memory. Motor memory is important at developing other writing skills and has been found to impact a child's reading. So can and when can we introduce word processing?

There is no doubt that word processing is a useful tool, but the experts say that prior to age 9 children should be encouraged to hand-write and experiment with letter formation. This means that children should not spend hand-writing sessions tracing letters, but experiencing the process of letter formation and forming their own motor memories. At age 9, if legibility is still an issue, then word processing should be introduced, not to encompass all hand-writing tasks at first, but as an additional tool that can grow and develop with time.

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