Sudha Arora is convinced that as a student she scored lower than she should have in her board exams because of her “illegible scrawl”. Now she worries about Sunny, her six-year-old boy. “I have always had a terrible handwriting and I don’t want my son to follow suit,” she says.
Like Arora, Angela Susan Mathew, a lecturer at EMPI Business School, New Delhi, is convinced that having good handwriting is an asset that her seven-year-old son John Tothen must acquire. “I am a teacher myself and I know that a neatly written assignment or answer sheet will always have a higher probability of getting a good grade vis-a-vis an untidy paper.”
Today, when many parents put their kids on the keyboard just about as soon as the child can sit up straight, Arora’s and Mathew’s obsession with good handwriting seems out of place. “I have been asked many times, ‘Does having a good handwriting still matter?’ and my answer is that having a clean, legible script will always give you an edge,” says Monisha Gupta, an educator and a trainer who conducts handwriting workshops for children across age groups at the British Council, New Delhi.
Weekly exercise: Mathew helps her son practise his handwriting. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
No matter how early your child gets keyboard-friendly, the fact remains that even today 99% of the exams and school assignments in India are handwritten. “To ensure your child has a decent shot at getting a good grade, besides a good revision schedule, it is important that he learns to write fast and as clearly as possible,” says Mathew.
A study released in late 2007 by Steve Graham, the Curry Ingram professor in the Vanderbilt Peabody College of Education and Human Development, US, found that a majority of primary school teachers believed that students with good handwriting produced written assignments that were superior in quantity and quality and resulted in higher grades—aside from being easier to read. “Handwriting is one of the basic building blocks of good writing and plays a critical role in learning,” says Graham. “Young children who have difficulty mastering this skill often avoid writing and their writing development may be arrested. They also may have trouble taking notes and following along in class, which will further impede their development.”
The key to good handwriting, according to Gupta, is practice. And the earlier this starts, the easier it is for the parents and the child. “Learning to write early will develop good motor skills. The child will learn to move not just his fingers but the entire hand from shoulder onwards, which is the key when you want to write fast.” Right from the time your child is a year or so, practise the circle, hoop, line formation in the air, imagining the finger to be the instrument. “When your child is ready to hold an instrument, I would recommend you start him off with a sketch pen. Unlike a graphite pencil or a ballpoint which requires a child to put pressure (press down) on the paper to make a mark, a sketch pen makes it easy and bright colours are an added attraction,” says Gupta.
As far as crayons are concerned, they work as a tool to perfect wrist and hand movements, especially while colouring and filling in a picture, but they should be avoided for learning to write alphabets.
To get her son to prefect his writing skills, Mathew gets him to copy a passage from a book every week. “He needs an incentive to sit in a place long enough and make an effort to write neatly. If he copies the paragraph well, there is always a reward in store.”
Correctly gripping the pen or pencil is the next step. The right way to hold a pencil or pen is to hold it with the thumb and index finger, with the barrel of the pen/pencil resting on the middle finger. The rest of the fingers should be curled beneath. “We find children using the thumb, index finger and middle finger to hold the pencil, with the barrel resting on the ring finger. Parents should gently correct this,” says Gupta.
By the time a child is four years old and beginning to learn how to write alphabets and numbers, graduate to lined sheets of paper and switch to pencils. Graphite pencils tend to have a better grip on paper. “They are harder to slip on paper, while a ballpoint pen will keep on slipping. The use of a graphite pencil gives the child an option to erase mistakes,” says Gupta.
A huge believer in the positive impact of cursive writing, Gupta says it should be introduced by six years or so because it helps to improve a child’s penmanship, and speed.
When a child is learning how to write alphabets and numbers, don’t insist that everything be written in small letters. Let your child get familiar with the formation and shape first. “But work on the posture from the start. While writing, it is important that a child leans forward and that his elbow is about half an inch above the level of the table. Feet should be placed firmly on the ground,” says Gupta. Position the book at a 45-degree angle from the writing hand. To accomplish this, place the paper straight up and down on the table. Gently tilt the top left corner down 45 degrees for a right-handed person and up for a left-handed person. This will give a good writing angle.
Monisha Gupta’s next workshop will be conducted on 7 March at the British Council, New Delhi.