Little black girl learning to readThink about the last time you wrote something. Did it involve pencil and paper? Or fingertips and a phone screen?

In today’s digital world, we adults seem to be doing less old-school writing than ever before. And our kids are watching us the whole time. So what would happen if we let them follow our lead, do all their writing on a device, and never develop good handwriting skills?

In a word, yikes.

The ability to write is really important and will benefit children in numerous ways — academically, creatively and emotionally — throughout life. So where does penmanship fit into the bigger picture?

Well, as it turns out, the most important thing about your child’s handwriting is not that it’s beautiful, but that it’s fast! Writing is a complex process that requires kids to master both motor skills (performing the appropriate physical movements to correctly draw letters) and language skills (deciding which words, sentences and paragraphs to write).

When you think about it, that’s a lot for a child to tackle all at once!

When children spend lots of mental energy on the physical act of forming letters, they have less brain power left over to focus on the content of their writing. But once kids learn to write quickly, the opposite becomes true. The writing process becomes automatic, allowing kids to compose more complicated, interesting and useful text.

Studies out of Columbia University, the University of Queensland and other institutions have shown that:

  • Faster writers perform better on tests in school, in large part because they’re able to take more effective and better-organized notes.
  • Faster writers experience similar benefits in creative writing, since they are able to spend more of their time inventing detailed, innovative and imaginative stories.
  • Faster writers are less likely than their slower-writing classmates to suffer from low self-esteem.

Not too shabby for a few simple pen strokes, huh? And the best news of all is that setting your children up for all that future success doesn’t have to be difficult. Like any skill, writing takes practice. Here are seven simple tips for fun and effective handwriting practice at home:

Get Your Kids Reading
Since writing is a literacy skill that relies on children’s understanding of letters and text, encouraging your kids to enjoy reading will naturally boost their writing skills, too. So read plenty of books together, talk about the text you see on cereal boxes, street signs, and other places both in and out of the home, and take every opportunity to make words seem fun!

Model Writing
Kids will be motivated by seeing you write, so, once in a while, try putting down your screens and letting your children see you write something the old fashioned way. Show them how you form your letters, and even have your kids trace or copy your writing for practice.

Make Writing a Part of Playtime
Try to weave writing into the activities you already love to do with your kids. If you enjoy playing pretend, add writing menus and taking written orders to your restaurant role-play. If you love to draw and paint together, add some letters or words to your masterpieces. To inspire your creations, check out PBS’s WordGirl or Super Why.

Stock Up On Wacky Writing Supplies
Nothing makes practicing penmanship more fun than outrageous and colorful supplies like pens, pencils, erasers, paper and journals. Keep them in a place that is easy for your children to access on their own. These supplies also make great gifts for kids.

Let Kids Write Lists
Use everyday activities as an excuse to practice writing together. Ask your child to help you write lists for shopping and packing, transcribe recipes while baking together, and help kids compose their own holiday letters and wish lists. It’ll give your little ones some useful writing practice, while costing you a lot less than hiring a personal assistant!

Don’t Expect Perfection
It takes a long time to master handwriting, and kids will go through a series of predictable steps along the way – scribbles, lines and curves that resemble letter parts, well-formed letters arranged in random combinations, adorably misspelled words, and, finally, correctly formed words. Expect errors along the way, and even appreciate them! Our daughter’s kindergarten teacher used to call kids’ invented spelling “kindergarten perfect.” Although students’ writing wasn’t yet ideal, the fact that the children were trying and practicing was what counted. Also, while it’s cool to promote good posture and body mechanics while writing, don’t get too hung up on little things like precisely how kids hold their pencil. Research shows that the specific pencil grip a child uses is less important than having a comfortable hold that won’t lead to cramping or fatigue.

Celebrate Your Children’s Success!
Show kids you value their writing abilities by encouraging them to make (and then gushing over) homemade birthday and holiday cards, and by proudly displaying kids’ writing attempts in your home as you do with their artwork. This can keep kids motivated to practice and feeling positive about handwriting!

Now that you’ve heard our tips for promoting at-home writing practice, share your own suggestions in the comments!

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