Warning over children’s ‘appalling’ handwriting skills

As most of you know, US & UK  schools are rapidly removing “cursive handwriting” from the elementary schools curriculum in favor of computer skills and classes which prepare the student for standardized tests.

Is the removal of cursive handwriting going to effect the ability of graphology to provide insight into character? How about the children’s ability to read. This article from the department for psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University has some strong evidence it does.  This article comes from the UK’s leading newspaper:  The Telegraph.

Warning over children’s ‘appalling’ handwriting skills

Children are struggling to write their own name because growing numbers of schools are shunning traditional handwriting lessons, academics have warned

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor

Click to read article enlarged to full screen

Children are struggling to write their own name because growing numbers of schools are shunning traditional handwriting lessons, academics have warned.

Education standards are at risk as pupils are increasingly allowed to submit essays digitally using email, memory sticks or even presenting PowerPoint displays, it was claimed.

Prof Carey Jewitt, from London University’s Institute of Education, said students’ handwriting skills were “absolutely appalling”, adding that many failed to get the practice they needed at home or in the classroom.

Other academics warned that a failure to teach children to write may stunt their development and hold them back in the classroom.

It comes after the publication of primary school exam results this summer showed that pupils perform worse in writing than any other core subject.

A quarter of 11-year-olds failed to reach the standards expected for their age in writing, compared with less than 20 per cent in reading and maths, figures showed.

Prof Jewitt, who has been leading research into the relationship between handwriting and technology for the last 10 years, said the amount of lesson time devoted to the skill had plummeted.

A failure to teach handwriting at a young age may harm children's development, academics claim.

“Little children may not be able to write their names but most can type them,” she told the Times Educational Supplement.

“Even families on a very low income are using email, using Skype.

“Students’ handwriting we have seen is absolutely appalling because they are not getting any practice. They aren’t handwriting at home.”

Observations of lessons in secondary schools suggest that handwriting has now all but disappeared from the classroom, she said.

Teachers increasingly prepare their lessons in digital form in a range of subjects, including English, before presenting them on high-tech white boards.

Many children are also allowed to submit essays as computer print-outs, send them to teachers by email or hand in work using memory sticks.

Dr Karin James, from the department for psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University in the United States, told the TES that a failure to develop handwriting skills undermined children’s reading ability.

“This is setting their brains up to be able to process letters and words,” she said. “That doesn’t happen with keyboarding or even with tracing the letters.

“Creating the form, stroke by stroke, seems to be very important. They need to produce the letters in their minds, then create them on paper.”

One study from Warwick University in 2008 suggested that children who struggled to write fluently devoted more brain capacity to getting words onto a page during tests – interfering with their ability to generate ideas, select vocabulary or plan work properly.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Handwriting is the most fundamental building block of being educated.

“Every single parent expects their children to be taught how to properly write at school. The current National Curriculum stipulates this is an absolute central part of primary school lessons.

“This is a pretty esoteric debate. No one is saying that keyboard skills aren’t important – but if people like Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs had to learn to write, then so can pupils in schools today. “


The most effective way to effect positive change in your child using the kid’s workbook is when you, the parent or teacher, are working on your “Adult’s” workbook at the same time. This creates a time to learn together and you may improve yourself, too. The adults workbook is not to improve your handwriting, it was designed six years before the kid’s workbook to assist you with setting goals and using grapho-therapy to improve yourself. This combination kit includes: One Adult’s Workbook, one Kid’s Workbook, Two instructional audio CD’s, a Special Report, the Grapho-Deck.



  1. babbage

    As a recently qualified teacher and someone who has spent 12 years in secondary school with children with SEN, I entirely aggree with the Professor that children still need to learn to write correctly. When children write words they are making the connections between the sounds in the words that they hear and the words they are writing. This is especially true when children also sound out the spellings as they write. I have trialed a phonics programme with pupils in Year 7 that encourages children to write the sound and then the words that contain them. Their hand-writing is often poor but improves immensely using this method and they enjoy it too as they see the connecton between sounds and spelling. Reading is also improved using this method. Evidence also suggests children also benefit from learning to write using cursive writing as it is much quicker than to print. I have seen this happen and have taught many children in Years 7, 8 and 9 to write correctly and their teachers have praised their handwriting. Many children in secondary school are embarressed about their hand-writing to the point that they refuse to write anything. Surely teaching this skill is still important since the vast majority of work in classrooms is not undertaken on a computer.

  2. MrDT

    10/16/2011 09:26 PM
    I must admit that this does actually worry me, even I as a maths teacher have to constantly say, actually I cannot rfead your writing and if I cannot an examiner certainly will not.
    I am forever making myself unpopular (which is not a problem) by making kids rewrite answer until I can read them.

  3. steeplejack

    10/15/2011 02:09 PM
    Hardly surprising that children cannot write in a clear, joined up, cursive hand when so many ‘teachers’ cannot do it themselves. When supervising apprentice teachers at a midlands university one student could only print in capitals. I wanted to fail him but it was intimated that if I did so I could not expect any more work from the univeresity.

  4. theliteracyblog

    10/15/2011 12:14 PM
    Aesthetic considerations aside, Dr James is absolutely right/write! There has been evidence for some time that, particularly in the early stages of learning to read and write (spell), copying letter/sound correspondences helps children learn them much faster than not writing them or typing them. In addition, if pupils are asked to say the sounds of the spellings as they write them, learning takes places even faster.
    That isn’t to say that learning keyboard skills isn’t also important. Which is why we need to teach both.

  5. dave500

    10/14/2011 10:25 PM
    Who needs handwriting? Typing skills are far more important in today’s world, let alone tomorrow’s.

  6. hethinksagain

    10/15/2011 08:56 AM
    Well said – sad but true, a dying skill.


    Commenter’s avatar


    10/16/2011 09:30 PM
    They are needed because
    1. Learning takes place much better linking hand eye cooridination.
    2. Exams are written, If the examiner cannot read your answer you fail.

  7. Andrea Shirley

    10/14/2011 09:03 PM
    Interesting how current education is often judged according to how closely it matches our own experiences at school. But how much will those children who are currently in primary school use handwriting in their adult life? I would suggest, not at all. Are we creating an artificial environment at school that does not reflect real life nor prepare students for the future because we are driven by nostalgia? I’m not suggesting that handwriting should be taken off the curriculum all together, at least for now, but piorities have changed and the exam system and curriculum need to catch up.

  8. MamaCazz

    10/15/2011 05:28 AM
    Doesn’t it annoy you that spelling along with handwriting is on a downwards slope? Why all this dependence on the electronic world? I think it is positively scary. It is not ‘nostalgia’, it is how it should be.

  9. mckevvy

    10/14/2011 05:42 PM
    I wasn’t ever taught joined up hand writing at primary school (I’m 44 now), yet my late dads generation was and their handwriting was absolutlely beautiful. You only have to look at the styles in the births, deaths and marriage record archives to see wonderful and continuous style.
    It certainly is dieing nowadays.

  10. TutorStephenFowler

    10/14/2011 08:48 PM
    I teach the flowing style of handwriting to which you refer at my tuition centre called Pupil’s Progress Education Centre in Manchester, and examples of this handwriting style are on my website. I teach the way I was taught by a teacher who was in her fifties when she taught my class in primary school in Colne in the 1960s. This style was skilfully designed to be very legible and fast and flowing and neat when done properly. For example, the small ‘s’ has a pointed top. On an isolated ‘s’ it looks strange, but in a word it looks natural. It is much neater and faster than trying to join on an ‘s’ that looks like the typewriter ‘s’.

    Often the child reports back to me that the teacher has praised their handwriting. On other occasions the child reports back that the teacher has told them to stop writing like this. For example, a couple of days ago a boy told me that his teacher told him never to join the ‘g’ onto the next letter as I had taught him. Obviously when this happens I tell the child to write as the teacher at school tells them to. But if the teacher does not object I teach them more letters with the flowing style.

    It is also important that the pen is held correctly. Notice in old films how everyone holds their pen in the same way. This is the way that will not tire the fingers. Contrast this with the variety of ways the pen is held by adults under fifty and by children. Most children report back to me that their teacher tells them that the pen hold is not important. I can only assume that this is what they are taught in teacher training. In my opinion, for a neat fast style that does not tire the fingers, the type of pen hold as seen in old films is essential.

    If schools were to reintroduce the correct pen hold to infants as we used to teach in the past, the handwriting of children in our schools would be improved dramatically.

    The child with the best handwriting before starting lessons was a child who had been taught the flowing style in India before the age of six.

  11. Obviously the lack of handwriting skills will affect graphology, as we’ll be looking at more and more childish and illegible handwriting. Will that reflect their mind and personality? I think so. Cluttered minds cause clutter surroundings, and that is bound to show in the handwriting.

    As for the lack of writing practice, I can only attribute that to government sponsored education, dumbing it down to the lowest common denominator.

    And to the person who wanted to know why we needed handwriting? I write every day, but I’m also a retired computer professional, and I use my home computer for many, many things. However, when doing introspective work, the written word is much more effective. There’s just something about writing as opposed to typing that engages the inner mind.

  12. What if the electricity goes out? Our whole world is dependent on electricity. A good storm, effective war technique, or other unforeseeen event could knock out the electricity indefinitely. Handwritten communication is a fundamental survival skill and should never be abandoned.

  13. I think it is really sad that the children of today are not taught to write and that we pay a lot of taxes to teacher to teach our children; and what do they do? Granted there are still teachers who actually earn and teach what children should be taught and I am truly grateful for them. But that being said, we as parents have a responsibility to our children to teach them to write even if we have to argue with them. We should never give that right up to teach them what schools do not!

  14. I would like to see more statistics concerning children’s handwriting or lack thereof and the effects of poor penmanship on their mental growth, health wise. Yes parents and teachers alike don’t seem to want to teach handwriting any more as the computer tech world has taken over.
    Might there be some children who are taking drugs at younger ages and that could affect their handwriting immensely. Their parents may not even know if they are doing it of course.

  15. The capitalist onslaught has affected culture in macro ways and not it has progressed to micro ways like taking away cursive handwriting from children.These all inevitably create downward cultural spiral which I am sure about having worked in New York programs that help people find jobs.
    I just finished a year teaching an 8YO child cursive but disappointingly he has no way to practise it at his charter school.
    The increasing loss of handwriting in quantity and quality will decrease opportunities for analysts.
    What we may need now is a school of handwriting analysis to help us analyse disfunctional handwriting or start a campaign to reverse the trend.

  16. I recently asked a third grade teacher why she was not teaching cursive handwriting anymore, she replied “It takes too much time!” Lazy teachers are role models who create lazy kids.

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