I am a SEN teacher of 25+ years, now specialising in helping people improve their handwriting. I am qualified to teach handwriting specifically through the National Handwriting Association and the Helen Arkell Centre for Dyslexia.
So what do I do and why? Well, I am passionate about handwriting – that is my motivation. Handwriting is a life skill. I find those most in need tend to be children struggling with schoolwork but equally, adults and professionals like doctors have also benefitted from my support and help.
In 2011, I decided to leave school and become a private handwriting tutor, founding Just Write to focus exclusively on handwriting. With those tutoring the normal subjects, handwriting is often offered as a 5 minute add-on at the end of a lesson, if requested. This is just not good enough. In spite of technology, school work is still centred around pen and paper, because it is still the most appropriate medium for young minds to use to commit their thoughts, ideas and creativity, which can then immediately be shared. Without the ability to express themselves in writing, they can become frustrated, lose confidence and ultimately fail to realise their full potential. School life marches on and you keep up or fall behind. This is what I saw happening and decided to do something about it.
I love teaching but found during my career that whilst writing is one of the foundations of a good education, it is rarely given the curriculum time it deserves; and different schools never have the same standards or teach the same style of handwriting. There is lack of time, knowledge and human resources. We now live in a world that has lots of left- handed writers, so no longer should this be a problem as there are so many writing tools to help them. Definitely no longer smudging of their writing as was the common belief! It is no wonder then that many schoolchildren fail to achieve a reasonable style and speed, and uncorrected bad habits and poor letter formation follows them into adulthood. How many of your friends and relatives have you heard saying that their handwriting is awful when the subject is raised? How many of them can remember being taught writing skills? I am sure you will have a variety of answers which will not be consistent between them.
The good news is that handwriting can be improved whatever your age. The trick is not to think of it as a finite skill that you are either good at or not, like maths! Handwriting is a skill like playing a musical instrument. To become good at it requires 2 things
1. a good understanding of technique and 2. the desire to practice and teach the hand muscles how to work!
This is about how you sit, hold your pencil, position your paper, how your writing area is lit and how much you press on the paper whilst writing. These are all correctable and will naturally give you the best opportunity to form letters and sentences in a legible and consistent style. In other words, all the practical things that will support a good practice writing session.
This is more complex. If we try really hard, we can often write sentences very slowly, but beautifully! What is required ultimately, is for us to be able to write beautifully, legibly and fast!
If you don’t already play the piano, imagine putting your hands and fingers onto the keys for the first time. There are a lot of questions. What does each note sound like? Which finger plays each note? How do you translate a piece of music on paper to the keys on the keyboard? How is it possible to stretch your fingers to cover an octave or more with one hand? How can your fingers hit the correct note every time, without fail?
Practice in this context is the activity of repetitive movement and applies equally to handwriting as it does to playing a musical instrument. With practice, you are creating ‘muscle memory’. That is, the muscles in your hands and fingers learn the movements and positions required to play a sequence of notes or to write a sequence of letters. However, humans are inherently lazy and if we can find a quicker way of doing this which doesn’t make your muscles ache as much, or require as much stretching or effort, we will do it. If the end result is OK rather than beautiful, we may be happy with that.
This is how bad habits are formed and they become your muscle memory. With handwriting, the difficulty comes when you try to read your ‘quick’ writing sometime later, or someone else does – like a teacher reading homework, or a nurse reading a Doctor’s notes. It might have been fully understandable when it was written, but not at some time later. University lecture notes, as an example, spring to mind here!
Remedial handwriting lessons with the right techniques reset the hand’s muscle memory to recover the situation by practising handwriting using the basic principles outlined above, in a motivational way. There is a crossover between some elements of occupational health and an individual’s level of fine motor skills that are addressed on an individual basis.
By this, I mean trying to remedy this yourself by writing “The quick brown fox…” etc. over and over again might have some benefit, but it is pretty repetitive and boring and misses out on techniques that underpin good handwriting. Getting children to do this can create a resistance to handwriting which is counterproductive and takes time and patience to rebuild their confidence.
In my experience, it is only a very few focussed people whose handwriting will improve through online exercises and printable sheets, without having prior knowledge of how the elements of physiology and psychology combine to achieve better handwriting. Most end up with an achy wrist, and convince themselves there isn’t really much wrong with their handwriting after all! As a teacher, I incorporate different activities and games as well as physical exercises into lessons to achieve the muscle changes required without the obvious but boring repetitive writing tasks, (or achy wrists!), making practice in between more enjoyable too. In just the same way, a piano teacher will deliver greater benefit over a shorter period of time than a self-learner can.
My success as a handwriting teacher is based on a one-to-one relationship with the student with a variety of tasks and exercises to keep interest and practice alive! I enjoy handwriting so much and love to see the written word, I even write as a Scribe for Inkpact 😊