In the past, I might have told you that a child needs fine motor skills and strong muscles in the hand for handwriting. While these are absolutely true, I've learned during our time of early years homeschooling how deeply connected and integrated each area of education is. These two skills are hugely important, but they are just scratching the surface of what children need to prepare for handwriting.
The best thing about these skills is that most of them can be developed through the lovely way we spend our hours during the early years: playing outside, playing together, and reading together. In my next post, we'll discuss how to develop these skills, but here we'll talk about the many skills that a child needs for handwriting.
Skills Needed for Handwriting
1.In-hand manipulation: I already mentioned fine motor skills and strong hand muscles in my opening words, but this is not even the technical term for the main skill needed for handwriting. Technically, it is in-hand manipulation that a child needs in order to grasp a pencil and move it around intentionally on the paper. A decline in free play has made these skills less of a given in childhood.
2. Visual tracking: What good are in-hand manipulation skills if a child cannot visually track the lines that he or she writes on a page? Visual tracking usually begins to develop when a child is an infant. Children who are go-getters and take off on their feet without ever crawling often have trouble with this skill later on.
3. Core strength: This skill might seem silly- don't we need core strength for almost everything we do? But I have personally witnessed children who literally can not sit up for long enough to write something meaningful, or those who seem to be sitting nicely in their chairs and suddenly fall out and onto the floor. Events like these don't just happen in Charlie Chaplin films- they happen because of a lack of core strength (and balance!) in children. These problems are also a result of the play epidemic that has been occurring for the past few decades.
4. Left to right, top to bottom: A child needs to know that print is read from left to right and top to bottom before learning to write. Additionally, knowing how to read before writing copious amounts of words is important. I mention this because I recently saw handwriting pages, filled with words written by a three-year-old, that the child couldn't read. I imagine that left to right, top to bottom weren't concepts this child had developed yet, as well as other skills, which were exhibited by shaky lines.
5. Crossing the midline: This skill involves moving the right hand side of the body to the left side and vice versa. It is directly related to visual tracking. It allows your child to use both portions of their body together. This skill requires both sides of the brain, so it strengthens the neural connections between the right and left hemispheres.
I didn't include obvious skills like knowing the letters of the alphabet or letter formation. Those skills can be learned gradually through play (or through my early literacy guide!)
Best Not To Rush Handwriting
Think of all the moving parts of handwriting: a left hand (or right!) holding the paper steady while simultaneously maintaining a strong core and forming letters correctly using the fine motor skills and handwriting muscles your child has developed through play. Phew! There is good reason to not rush these skills!
A viral Facebook post last year showed the x-ray of the hand of a seven-year-old versus the x-ray of a very young child's hand. It is very obvious that the young child's hand has much more developing to do! Let them be little- through lots of play and exposure to good books, they will eventually be ready for handwriting!
Got an eager writer? My daughter was one of them! I wrote a post about handwriting with eager children in the early years. You can read it here.