Some children just hate handwriting. End of story. They resist it, they hurry to get it done and it becomes a huge emotional hurdle. Our challenge is to understand why children are hating it, and find ways to overcome it. Handwriting is a critical foundation skill for story writing and composition, which are one of the cornerstones of foundation phase education. We cannot ignore it when a child hates handwriting. So what must I do if my child hates handwriting?
When a child hates handwriting it is a pretty big deal. It’s a little like a child who hates maths. You know they are going to have to do maths for a long time before they have the freedom to choose to leave it behind. And, your child is going to have to write for a very long time before they can leave handwriting behind. It really is an academic emergency if your child hates handwriting. We need to find out why and we need to find ways to help them before the emotional overlay is so great that it is irredeemable. We cannot allow our children to dumb down what they know because their handwriting is the issue. This is a tragic casualty and it needs to be addressed.
The result of hating handwriting is a little like the result of being forced to play water polo when you hate swimming. A water polo player will probably not excel at the sport if they hate swimming. Our children have to master story writing and composition – it is a requirement. But if they hate handwriting, children aren’t going to excel at story writing. Not because they can’t create a story – but because they hate the medium of expression. Some children can create the most amazing stories if they tell them to you, but when it comes to writing them down, they are half the stories they were when they were telling them to you.
Children do not wake up in the morning and decide out of principle that today is the day they are going to start hating handwriting. There is always a reason.
When children hate handwriting it is usually because something else is going on. There is some foundation skill that is missing or not working properly. We need to bring our detective skills into play to find the underlying reason.
My child refuses to write because it is difficult!
Handwriting is difficult if one of the foundation blocks on which the skill it is built is missing. The building blocks for handwriting are numerous and diverse, from visual-perceptual to motor foundations, amongst many others.
If we want to help children who are finding handwriting difficult, we need to work on the missing foundational components. While research has shown that practise in handwriting is one of the critical elements in getting it to improve, doing so with missing foundations is not. The more we practise handwriting in poor patterns, the more entrenched they become. Something has to change in the foundations for us to bring about a change in the output skill of handwriting. So, if for example, the visual-perceptual foundations are compromised, that is where we need to focus our intervention. And at the same time, we can work on the output handwriting skill.
My child doesn’t want to write because it hurts!
Weak muscle foundations mean that lengthy periods of handwriting are going to cause a problem. Like all muscles, if they don’t get continuous exercise they are going to hurt when they are required to work hard. If our children have weak motor foundations, their hands will hurt when they write. But the good news is that muscles can be strengthened! I so often advise a six-week intensive to focus on the development of foundational muscles and movement patterns. And with targeted input we can get really good improvement.
Children may hate handwriting because no matter how hard they try it is still messy.
It comes back to the same thing. If the foundations are missing, it doesn’t matter how hard they try – they just aren’t going to get the results they had hoped for. We also don’t enjoy activities and tasks that we find difficult. In fact, we often avoid them. And so why do we expect anything different from our children? We can’t expect them not to become despondent about handwriting if, despite all their efforts, it is still a mess.
This always comes back to the same thing: if they are trying hard – and our children usually do – then somewhere in the handwriting foundations something is missing. It is difficult to build a house if the foundations are shaky and some of the bricks low down in the wall are missing. It doesn’t matter how much you try to plaster over the cracks at the top of the wall, the problem is going to remain because the cause of the problem is at the bottom, not the top.
My child hates handwriting. Concentration may not be doing its job.
As I say in the The Wall, concentration is the general that oversees the troops. If concentration is not doing its job, then it doesn’t matter how good the fine motor and visual-perceptual foundations are, they are not going to come together and achieve good handwriting. It is rather like a cake where all the ingredients are there, but the baker isn’t able to put them all together to make the cake. If the ingredients aren’t put together in the correct way, the cake will not be quite what they had hoped for. It is the same with handwriting. If all the complex underlying skills are not brought together in the right way, the child is not going to achieve legible, automatic handwriting at the required speed. Concentration needs to be there to do its job in the handwriting process.
My child hates handwriting and refuses to write.
They may have Dysgraphia.
Dysgraphia, or a disorder in written expression, is the name give to a significant handwriting difficulty of neurological origin. To formally identify this, children need to undergo an assessment by a specialised professional. Following this, recommendations for accommodations such as extra time, a typing dispensation, or a scribe or amanuesis to assist them writing down their tests and examinations, are made.
Dr Melanie Wilson discusses “a surprising reason your child hates to write” over at psychowith6.
If we try to identify the underlying reasons why handwriting is difficult for our children, we can start to find the path to helping them. Hating handwriting, the foundation for one of the critical foundation phase skills of story writing, is going to hamper our children’s scholastic progress. We owe it to them to work with them to get to the bottom of it, and to get them over the hurdle.