Studies have estimated that between 10 to 30 percent of elementary school children struggle with handwriting (Karlsdottir and Stephansson 2002, as cited in Feder and Majnemer 2007).
Handwriting is an essential skill for both children and adults (Feder & Majnemer, 2007). Even in the age of technology, handwriting remains the primary tool of communication and knowledge assessment for students in the classroom. The demands for handwriting are great, whether in the classroom or beyond. A 1992 study (McHale & Cermak) found that 85 percent of all fine motor time in second-, fourth- and sixth-grade classrooms was spent on paper and pencil activities. A more recent study (Marr, Cermak, Cohn & Henderson, 2003) noted that kindergarten children are now spending 42 percent of their fine motor time on paper and pencil activities.
The addition of handwritten components to many state standardized assessments and of a handwritten essay to the College Board SAT in 2005 further emphasize the importance of handwriting. Furthermore, good handwriting is important long after graduation. In Script and Scribble (2009), Florey writes in reference to handwritten job applications, “Like it or not, even in our machine-driven world, people still judge you by your handwriting.”
Research literature extensively documents the consequences of poor handwriting on early literacy and academic performance. Children who experience difficulty mastering this skill [handwriting] may avoid writing and decide that they cannot write, leading to arrested writing development (Graham, Harris and Fink, 2000). Handwriting is critical to the production of creative and well-written text (Graham & Harris, 2005) affecting both fluency and the quality of the composition. Illegible handwriting also has secondary effects on school achievement and self-esteem (Engel-Yeger, Nagakur - Yanuv & Rosenblum, 2009; Malloy-Miller, Polatajko & Anstett, 1995).
Handwriting instruction must adhere to developmental principles to ensure success for all children. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), newborn to eight-year-old children learn best from methods that are consistent with developmentally appropriate practice (1996). However, due to a
general lack in professional development in the area of handwriting, educators are not always aware of the specific objectives to be addressed at various grade levels.
Educational guidelines often are limited to one standard, “produces legible handwriting” in the English/language arts standards. When students fail to meet this standard, teachers have no means for examining which skills are lacking. Meanwhile these students are experiencing all the negative effects of poor handwriting.
Seeing the need for a more specific analysis of skills, Handwriting Without Tears and a team of occupational therapists and educators has developed a set of comprehensive Handwriting Standards for kindergarten through grade 4+. We hope these will serve as an example to educators and curriculum decision-makers and bring increased attention to this crucial, yet often overlooked, area of education.