Are kids learning to write too young? How old were you when you learned to write?
Ok y’all, not to show my age here, but when I was a kid, we didn’t start learning to write our letters until at least1st grade. What in the world were we doing in Kindergarten then, you might ask? Well, we learned to play nicely with peers, to share and take turns. We learned to color in the lines, tie our shoes, button, snap, put on and zip up our coat. We were expected to respect our teachers and other adults. We had plenty to do to occupy our school day! And learning how to write was not one of them.
ABC’s & 123’s
In 1st grade we began learning how to print letters and numbers. In 2nd and 3rd grades we were taught to write-in cursive. When I say taught, I mean taught. I distinctly recall my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson, standing at the chalk board and instructing us stroke by stroke. I remember having penmanship grades and teachers took it very seriously.
Fast Forward a Few Decades
Fast forward 30 or so years, and school looks much different! (In A LOT of ways, but that’s for another blog post altogether!) Anyway….
So fast forward to about 2005 or so, and handwriting instruction seemed to have all but disappeared from the public-school curriculum (At least where I live). I’m not saying kids aren’t writing. In fact, the opposite is true. Kids are probably writing more today, but with far less instruction. They are also beginning to write at a much younger age.
So, what does this mean for our kiddos?
Are kids learning to write too young? There are several patterns that I have observed over the years.
First, I have noticed that many kids’ struggle to use a functional and efficient grasp. I attribute this, at least in part, to kids being required to write too young. Children’s hands are not simply tiny versions of adults’ hands.
Have you ever noticed that a child’s fingers are generally more “bendy” than an adult’s fingers? The fancy term for this “bendiness” is joint laxity. Even a child with a normal amount of joint laxity may struggle to grasp a pencil well enough to have proper control for letter formation. The challenge is even greater for a child who has lower muscle tone than normal. (Children with special needs often have low muscle tone).
In an effort to stabilize their pencil, kids often develop all sorts of “wonky” grasps. Do you like that technical term! Lol! Seriously though, you know what I’m talking about. These “wonky” grasps can often be prevented by allowing the child’s hand and finger musculature more time to develop and strengthen. A more mature grasp will then develop naturally.
Kids Left To “Figure It Out” On Their Own
To be fair, most kids without special needs will “figure it out”, although you may notice that they do not use the typical top to bottom approach that we were taught in school. Today most students who have not received specific handwriting instruction write from bottom to top. Their letter formation and directionality are often inefficient at best.
Children with certain special needs, however, struggle to “figure it out” without specific handwriting instruction. They may not have the fine motor, visual motor, or perceptual skills necessary to write with ease and automaticity. In fact, the majority of kiddos referred to me for “handwriting” have much more going on than the need for finger strengthening. It may look like this is the primary problem to the untrained eye, but it turns out that handwriting is quite a complex task requiring the coordination and integration of many different skills and systems. Below is a list (not all inclusive) of just some of them:
Oculomotor skills (i.e., tracking, eye teaming, scanning etc.)
Fine motor coordination
Fine motor grading (i.e., the ability to monitor and change the amount of force required).
Visual motor integration
This is A LOT for 4- and 5-year-old children to tackle. And when required of children who are already struggling with developmental delays of some kind, it can be like WWIII!! Tears! Lots of tears! And I don’t mean just from the child!!
Kids Not Developmentally Ready
Requiring children to write in Kindergarten is hard enough in my opinion! But what about requiring preschool-aged children to write? We are talking 3 and 4 years olds, (which is quite common believe it or not). This is actually not developmentally appropriate. Did you know the average age for a child to be able to draw/write on the diagonal is 4 years 11 months? Yep! And nearly half of the capital letters in the English alphabet have a diagonal line.
Let Our Kids PLAY!
Parents (and teachers) please, before putting a pencil in your child’s hand, make sure they’ve had plenty of opportunities to participate in all types of PLAY! Gross motor, fine motor, sensory, visual motor, visual perceptual etc. Play is the “occupation” of a child. This is how they learn and develop! Through play, the necessary systems and skills for academics will naturally develop in a neurotypical child. Our kids need to play! Trust the process.
** Depending on the special needs of some children, an Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, or other professional might be needed to help facilitate what a neurotypical child might develop naturally.**