I visited a UK Montessori School early this week and was really impressed by something about the children’s handwriting. It struck me, as I moved from the Reception class up to Year 6, that their handwriting had finally come together in the later years of Year 5 and 6, starting with the simple marks on the paper which sometimes were difficult to decipher in Reception classes and culminated into a fluid legible, creative and grammatically well written pieces in the latter years.
May I add as an aside that this Primary school had only 3 classes (because of the Mixed Aged Groups) and not the 7 that traditional schools would have. This though is a topic for another day. Let’s get back to the Handwriting Process…
There have been a lot of issues that have come up about our children and their handwriting skills: for example, some parents feel strongly that once their child starts school they should be writing, we are talking sometimes of 18 month old children! Some educators on the other hand expect children aged 3 and above to be doing number drills from 1 to 500 and above! By the time the children are in Primary 1 the common expectation is that the children produce well copied, neat notes.
The problem with all the above is that they are not realistic, neither will they help to achieve the desired effect in the latter years of beautifully written, grammatically correct and imaginative prose that we would all be proud of as parents and teachers.
This is why when we look at the Handwriting aspect of educating a child we must have the end product in mind, but realize that it is a process and not something that can be quickly fixed. We may go for handwriting training sessions as teachers, but please do not return to the classroom and expect magic from the children. Because we can pick up the Nelson or Collins script so easily does not mean that our 5 or 7 year old’s can do so overnight. Please consider the number of years of practice you have had compared to theirs…
In brief there are 3 important aspects to producing the great creative scripts we will require of our children as they move on to Secondary Education, these include:
a) The Mechanical aspect of writing– This is important but even within this aspect we may concentrate on one thing and not on all things.
The pencil grip must be considered so must be the sitting position of the child and the placement of the paper on the table. The letter formation is also another aspect that children should be taught correctly right from the start. To get this right a whole load of Pre writing skill exercises should be used to start with.
The beginning points of each letter is also important as it helps to add-on to their ability to join the writing together be it cursive or print at the end of the day. Choosing whether to start with Capital letters or small letters, cursive or print, large lines or thin lined paper… Lot’s of decisions, but they must be made with an understanding of the needs of the child.
Did you know that it is really difficult for children to write horizontally! Yet we are in the business of forcing our children to write beautiful scripts even before they can fully understand what they are writing.
It has also been observed that boys start out with developing their gross motor skills before their fine motor skills, writing achievements are therefore not in the forefront for them… So why exactly the rush? Is it for the good of the child?
b) Working on Grammatically Correct Sentence Structure– The right order of things is for a child to learn to use language orally to start with before reading and writing. We do believe even in the Montessori setting that children write long before they read… This belief must be defined… What kind of writing are we referring to?
When we say children can write, are we referring to mark making on a sheet of paper, or a well written script with no grammatical errors? Yes children start writing by scribbling most of the time, painting with fingers, writing with a stick in the sand, but well scripted and grammatically correct scripts come way later. In fact a child’s reading skills really should be ahead of their writing skills.
Children are known to simplify the thoughts in their head so that they can put them down on paper. They do this for a very long time until their skills all come together at ages 11 and 12.
So, a word of warning to parents and teachers, when you are working on grammar, then give feedback on that, and not on the letter formation and handwriting mechanics. Children are a work in progress. We do always expect and want perfection in their work… You can expect it and demand it at the peril of discouraging the child from loving to write and doing the work lovingly.
How much writing do we do? That is a question I ask myself as well. I am typing this on my laptop. Our lifestyle has changed. If we expect penmanship from our children, then they expect the same from us. We must model what we expect.
c) Creative writing– This is the third part of the aspect of writing or the end goal, that our children would be able to produce well writing creative prose as they transition into Secondary school settings. It is a process and should be well thought out.
A great part of this process is for the adult to be the scribe, the helper in the early years, instead of insisting that the child write everything, it would be great if you write for them sometimes, but tease out the ideas from them. That means we write down their thoughts for them. They will transition later into doing it themselves but this is a great start as their skills are not ready to take on all the tasks required to do all the work.
I saw how you could produce confident writers from taking it step by step and achieving greatness without rushing. I am glad that no child is rushed in our setting, but instead we have worked hard on following the process.
Handwriting is a process and the goal must be what we aim for at a later date, but we take the baby steps today, one by one to get to our ultimate goal.
Picture credits from Addlo Montessori School House and Google Images.