Writing vs. Handwriting

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					Writing vs. Handwriting

Mary Hood, Ph.D.

At workshops, many people ask me questions concerning the development of writing skills.
Often, when I dig a little deeper, I am surprised to discover that they are really talking
about penmanship. These are two different things that need to be looked at separately.

In my opinion, most people overemphasize penmanship in the early years. Neither my
husband nor any of my three sons writes with cursive letters, except for signing their names
on checks. In this computer age, it isn’t as important as some people believe.

Once, my youngest son and I were at a baseball tournament. It was a national all-star
tournament where they were trying to make sure nobody had brought in any “ringers.” One
by one they were grilling our players. The first one didn’t know his mother’s maiden name.
The second one didn’t respond to his own name, since he always went by a nickname. It
was starting to look like we had put together an entire team composed of ineligible players.
As my son got closer to the front of the line, he started becoming agitated. I thought he was
worried about the questions he would be asked, but just before we reached the front of the
line, he turned to me and said: “MOM! I don’t know how to write my name in cursive!”

I pulled him to the side and showed him, and he went back to the line to sign up. It didn’t
take three years of primary school to accomplish that task.

On the other hand, both of my daughters have beautiful cursive writing. They learned as
soon as they had a genuine desire to do so. One thing that encouraged them was our use of
pen pals. As the pen pals began to write in cursive, the girls asked to learn, and I got them
a book that showed them how.

Obviously, I believe more in the development of genuine writing than penmanship.
However, I do believe in helping children develop fine motor control. This often works better
through the use of artwork, especially calligraphy, or in the workshop, using tools. Why
torture small boys with exercises in penmanship when they could develop the same fine
motor skills using a hammer and chisel?

Writing skills, on the other hand, are very important to me. I believe there are a couple of
reasons many young children are resistant to writing. First, some of them have so much
trouble with the penmanship issue that they have been turned off to the process of writing.

Second, some of them simply don’t have any stories to tell yet. They might just need a little
more time. My brother, who has no children of his own, once shared a startling observation
with me. I was bemoaning the tendency of a couple of my children to make up lies. My
brother said: “You know, they are only making up stories because they hear all the older
people telling stories. Since they don’t have any real ones yet, they are just making up
some of their own. They don’t even realize it is lying.” He was right!

The two most important things for mothers of young children to do are (1) to read to them
and (2) have interesting experiences together. Both of these investments will lay the
groundwork for the development of successful writing skills. Here are some ideas that I’ve
put to good use in our family:
• Real writing begins with oral communication. In kindergartens, the teachers use
“experience charts.” To do this, get an easel with a flip chart, preferably one that uses lines
similar to those used on primary paper. (They are often available at teacher’s supply
stores.) Then, after you have had an interesting experience, such as going to the zoo, the
park, or the grocery store, have the children sit down on the floor in front of you, and
“write” a story about it together. You are simply the scribe, writing down what they tell you
to write. Then you can read it back together, even if they can’t really read yet, because they
will remember the lines they just “wrote.”

• One of the best ways to encourage beginning writers is to provide blank booklets. For
those with any desire at all, there is something almost magical about a whole booklet of
blank pages. I used to get 11" x 17" primary paper from Miller Pads & Paper (the type
that has lines at the bottom and a place for a picture at the top), fold over several sheets,
and staple them together. (One great resource for making more elaborate books is
Creating Books with Children by Valerie Bendt.)

• We used to read The Story Bible by Pearl S. Buck at the breakfast table. My children
would then write their own Bible entries, a little at a time, using these booklets. At first, all
they would do was draw a picture. Then they would progress to titles, then captions, then a
couple of words, and finally they would be writing whole sentences and paragraphs.

• Once children are writing, it is best to work with them as an editor, using common sense.
Very few young writers want to get their work back with red lines all over it and then be
asked to re-do everything until it is perfect. On the other hand, they have an innate desire
to grow and develop. One time I might say: “Great story! By the way, have we ever talked
about how to indent the first line of a paragraph? You do it like this (and then I’d do it on
my own work, not mess up theirs with red marks).” The next time I might say: “Oh,
Grandma will love this letter. By the way, you spell sincerely with an e.”

The development of writing takes time. Let your kids enjoy the process by not expecting too
much, too early. All of my children eventually became great writers. As always, relax just a
bit, and enjoy the process together!

Mary Hood, Ph.D., and her husband, Roy, homeschooled their five children since the early
1980s. All have successfully made the transition to adulthood. Mary has a Ph.D. in
education and is the director of ARCHERS for the Lord, Inc. (The Association of Relaxed
Christian Home Educators). She is the author of The Relaxes Home School, The Joyful
Home Schooler, and other books, and is available for speaking engagements. Contact her
via her website,

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in
the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education
magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and
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