by Beth Anne Brennan
Director of Early Childhood Programs
The topic of handwriting skills, fading within the curriculum of many schools, is often featured in newspapers and articles, and debated in educational circles across the country. The faculty at Elisabeth Morrow weighed in on these debates, did some research, consulted with occupational therapists, and recently reevaluated our own teaching practices for developing the skills of handwriting. We found that a change would be beneficial for all learners; thus the Handwriting Without Tears program was adopted this fall.
Handwriting is an essential skill for children and remains the primary tool of communication for young learners. Poor handwriting has been linked to poor spelling, poor note-taking skills, and an aversion to writing in later grades (1). Our goal in teaching handwriting in the Early Childhood Program is that it should be automatic (done without thinking about it), neat and performed quickly. As well, our teaching should focus on the needs of all types of learners. We felt that the Handwriting Without Tears program provided a multi-sensory approach, designed to make fluent handwriting an intuitive skill.
More than just pencil-in-hand, the program uses play dough, wood pieces to build letters, dry erase boards, chalk boards and songs about letters (order and rhyme). The variety of materials enables our children to explore, manipulate, or play with letters during center time in school. Each of these materials has specific objectives in mind for the varying stages of handwriting development. So far, we are finding that the techniques for instruction are uniform, meaning that letter formation builds upon basic shapes and strokes—a process that makes sense for teachers, parents and most importantly, children.
The Handwriting Without Tears program has been in use for over thirty-five years and occupational therapists and educators have been steadily advocating its implementation as handwriting problems increase due to keyboard use becoming more prevalent. At Elisabeth Morrow, the program has already met with favorable results. One of our Kindergarten teachers recently commented on how much she loved teaching handwriting this year: “The children are having meaningful experiences manipulating letters, and I am noticing that more children are having success transferring their learning to their written work.”
1 Feder, K.P., & Majnemer, A. (2007). “Handwriting development, competency, and intervention.” Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 49, 312-317