Handwriting Legibility: Why Is It Important?

On my blog, I strive to provide insight into the complex issue of handwriting difficulties, the varying factors that may contribute to its cause, and above all, the importance of providing intervention at the onset to prevent hard-to-break habits and further problems in school and life. 

Why is it so important to address handwriting issues?

Handwriting fluency or the ability to write letters in a smooth, effortless manner during timed tasks, plays a major role in literacy.  When children show signs of handwriting difficulty it is very important to address it right away.  Failure to provide young writers with effective early intervention is likely to lead to larger performance gaps as they progress through school (Puranik, Otaiba, Sidler, Greulich, 2014).  Poor written communication skills limit access to college and limit success in the workplace as effective written communication is increasingly used to judge performance (Puranik, Otaiba, Sidler, Greulich, 2014).  

“Writing requires the management and coordination of multiple cognitive-linguistic processes simultaneously and is more difficult than reading. Thus, it stands to reason that writing too requires explicit, systematic, and sustained instruction for its mastery.”(Puranik, Otaiba, Sidler, Greulich, 2014).   In US grade schools today, handwriting appears to be a skill that receives varying amounts of attention.    Although common core standards clearly define what is expected of students upon the completion of kindergarten, there are no standard or writing curricula that teachers can follow.  In the primary grades, 75–100 min per week should be used for handwriting instruction, letters sharing common strokes (e.g., a, d, and g) should be grouped, and children should be monitored and immediately get help to form letters better when they are illegible (Hurschler, Lichtsteiner, Wicki, Falmann, 2018). According to a study conducted by Puranik and others, on average only 10.5 minutes or less were spent on writing instruction during kindergarten language arts instruction.  (Puranik, Otaiba, Sidler, Greulich, 2014).

Are handwriting difficulties common?

Many children have difficulty learning how to write letters and numbers fluently.  In fact, 10% to 34% of school-aged children fail to master handwriting (Schwellnus, Carnahan, Kushki, Polatajko, Missiuna, & Chau, 2012).

Why do some children have difficulty learning to write?

Handwriting difficulties may stem from a lack of direct instruction, fine motor delays, difficulties with motor planning and coordination (also known as dyspraxia), visual perceptual and/or visual-motor deficits, and/or executive functioning difficulties.  An occupational therapy evaluation can identify the underlying cause of handwriting difficulties.  

No matter what the cause, it is important to address it straight away. 

“Handwriting training seems to be a promising method to improve the text quality early in the school career. Over the last years, this assumption could be confirmed for children with and without disabilities: automaticity training of transcription or handwriting skills lead to improvements in both text length and quality” (Hurschler, Lichtsteiner, Wicki, Falmann, 2018). 

Several factors can make a child’s writing difficult to read.  

  1. Poorly formed letters
  2. Letters that are squished together or spread too far apart
  3. Words that are squished together or too far apart
  4. Poorly organized writing that is all over the page instead of aligned along the margin and lines of ruled paper
  5. Very faint print that is difficult to see due to inadequate pressure
  6. Very dark print that appears messy due to too much pressure

Of utmost importance is to make sure children are ready to learn how to write letters by ensuring that they’ve mastered the prerequisite skill first, pre-writing strokes.  If children are not able to draw basic pre-writing strokes (lines, crosses, circles, squares, and triangles) then it’s nearly impossible for them to learn how to write letters correctly and efficiently.  I then recommend teaching children upper case letters next.  Upper case letters are easier to form and do not have as many variances in size and stroke sequence.  All upper case letters start and stop on the top and bottom lines of primary paper.  This is a great introduction to writing letters and forms good habits right at the beginning.  

In my Handwriting Series, I tackle the issues that can make handwriting difficult to perform and read. I offer tips, strategies, and resources that can be used to help children who struggle with this issue. Interested in reading more? Check out these posts:

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Pressure Grading (how-much-force-to-apply)

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Spacing

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility Line Orientation

As Always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

References:

Hurschler Lichtsteiner, S., Wicki, W., & Falmann, P. (2018). Impact of Handwriting Training on Fluency, Spelling and Text Quality Among Third Graders. Reading and Writing, 31 (6), 1295–1318.

Puranik, Cynthia & Al Otaiba, Stephanie & Folsom, Jessica & Greulich, Luana. (2014). Exploring the Amount and Type of Writing Instruction during Language Arts Instruction in Kindergarten Classrooms. Reading and Writing. 27. 10.1007/s11145-013-9441-8.

Schwellnus, H., et al. “Effect of Pencil Grasp on the Speed and Legibility of Handwriting in Children.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy, vol. 66, no. 6, 2012, pp. 718–726.

Published by Linda Craig Dennis

Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Author and Creator of Fun Strokes Pre-writing Program

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