I have read two reviews of Anne Trubek’s book The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, one of them in the New York Times The Story of How Handwriting Evolved, and May Soon Die Off. I have not read her book yet, but since I work with young children, I spend plenty of time with “boots on the ground”, in the trenches with early writers and readers.
My first thought after reading both book reviews was “If handwriting dies off, does she predict that 4 year-olds will be typing?”. I have not seen the amount of physical writing in early education diminish. In fact, I am certain that kindergarteners are writing more now than we saw in first grade only 10-15 years ago. Kids are working on tablets as well, but the flood of worksheets hasn’t slowed down at all. If you have a child between 4 and 6, you know what I mean. It is a lot of paper!
So much for handwriting dying out in the near future. In fact, we are expecting kids to learn to write earlier and to learn it quickly. That is hard enough, but no one is teaching educators how to accomplish this feat. My local preschools change writing programs faster than they change playground schedules. We now have large numbers of children moving into elementary education that were not taught to print correctly, and educators who want to help them but don’t know how. I will only briefly mention the children with autism and learning differences that are mainstreamed and expected to keep up under these crushing conditions. No wonder business is booming: Sharp Rise in Occupational Therapy Cases at New York’s Schools .
Frustrating children, by not teaching them well (which often prevents full language expression) because you don’t know how to help them, is not the answer. I spend part of each day working with children who feel bad about themselves as learners because they cannot write clearly. They believe that the problem is theirs and theirs alone. I help them build their skills and restore their self-esteem. In most of my sessions I am not using extensive therapy techniques. I am teaching them to write in a developmentally-ordered, practical and logical manner. I am observing their errors, and showing them how to succeed.
Brain research from education, psychology and neuroscience has suggested that children who physically write letters, rather than clicking them, will display greater ease of recall and improved legibility. Children with physical limitations have no choice but to write digitally, but that doesn’t make it the more desirable method for children without motor issues to learn letter recognition, spelling, and build literacy skills. Kids with autism and learning differences deserve handwriting instruction that makes things easier and simpler if they are expected to keep up. But is handwriting dead or dying? Not if you are in the age group in which you still need a carseat to go away on vacation!