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Handwriting and Technology: A Happy Coexistence

August 13, 2012

If your child’s pride in the way he or she writes isn’t reason enough to make handwriting instruction a priority, scientific studies have proven that children who are taught to write quickly and fluently enjoy advantages in language processing, development and scholastic achievement. Regardless of the method chosen by schools and parents, spending minimal daily time on handwriting with your children helps to ensure that they will be better able to express themselves competently and creatively in whatever method they choose. If a child’s writing is a painful and laborious process, his or her expressive efforts will be stifled.

Children who are fluent with a pen can use language and writing skills to escape the limits of their circumstances, and those who do have access to computers will not be restricted in their communication and creativity if there isn’t an electronic device within their grasp 24/7.

While technology does allow communication portability, we must remember that one day our children will need to function in business environments. My friend Lou commented on my Facebook page that although many inner-city children do not have computers, most have cell phones and are able to communicate rapidly and easily via abbreviated and symbol text messaging. While that is wonderful, it will not help them with their future resumés. While I see the occasional iPad in company meetings, most people still use paper and pen to take notes. Job applications are still often completed with a pen, and legibility is important.

Technology is certainly not the enemy, however, and may even be used to help teach handwriting. My husband recently purchased an iPad, so I borrowed it to peruse the app store and see what, if any, programs were available to teach handwriting. I was delighted to find quite a few. Although I obviously couldn’t download all of them, several had free versions to try, and after reading the feedback on most of them, I downloaded six. All of them (except for one, which is noted) invite the user to form letters with the index finger and/or a stylus on the touch screen.

My favorite was the Zaner-Bloser app ($1.99), because it gives feedback on whether a letter has been done correctly. It also shows the stroke order and direction, and there is a practice area that shows how well the example made by the user matches the practice example.

Kate Gladstone, who is well known to handwriting enthusiasts as the Handwriting Repairwoman (see handwritingrepair.info), is co-creator of an app called Better Letters ($1.99), which teaches a basic italic style. She has also audio-recorded a selection of lectures on handwriting that is part of this download.

Author Nan J. Barchowsky tells me that her iPad application, Letters Make Words, will be out very soon. It teaches handwriting and basic phonics, with a focus on rhythmic movement for letter formation of lowercase letters. (If it’s successful, she’ll move on to uppercase and numerals.) Users will be encouraged to develop a good pencil hold. Each letter will be followed by a word for practice, or two words whenever letters have soft or hard sounds within different words. Users are also encouraged to practice with their own paper and pencil.

I thought that most of the apps did a great job of providing practice for the individual upper and lower case cursive letters (there were many manuscript apps and several with both manuscript and cursive options); however, only three appeared to demonstrate joined letters. The Cursive Lesson ($.99) was essentially a video demonstration that showed a hand (with proper pen grip!) writing each cursive letter along with a verbal description of exactly how the letter was made. The Cursive Lesson also showed four words in which the letters were joined. I would have liked to see all of the different letter connections. Another app, I’m Learning how to Write Words and Numbers ($2.99), provided a word, sentence, and blank practice sheet option; however, it didn’t have any direction on stroke order and the lines I made were thin and somewhat wiggly, despite my best efforts. (In contrast, it was easy to get a smooth, nice-looking letter with my finger using the Zaner-Bloser application.) Most apps could be used on both the iPhone and iPad.

In addition to the iPhone and iPad applications, both Zaner-Bloser and Peterson Directed Handwriting offer other intriguing electronic learning options. Zaner-Bloser reinforces spelling with interactive whiteboards and Peterson Directed uses electronic touch pads to practice writing with a stylus or a finger.

As with traditional handwriting practice, supportive parental supervision is vital. We parents are charged with guiding our children and requiring them to do things that are not always easy and fun, but that will benefit them in the long run. Although it may be easier and more fun for children to punch a few computer keys and play unsupervised with the many colorful programs available, in the long run, supervised handwriting practice and learning basic skills such as proper letter and paragraph structure, envelope format so forth—although not as popular—will provide more longterm benefits.

Sit with your children and watch what they are doing. Provide interesting and fun activities that encourage them to use their skills, such as keeping a diary and writing to relatives and pen pals. Emphasize that writing is and will continue to be an important skill.

Back before our grandparents’ day, one could look at a person’s writing and tell what gender and socioeconomic class the writer belonged to.

I thought that most of the apps did a great job of providing practice for the individual upper- and lower- case cursive letters (there were many manuscript apps and several with both manuscript and cursive options); however, only three appeared to demonstrate joined letters. The Cursive Lesson ($.99) was essentially a video demonstration that showed a hand (with proper pen grip!) writing each cursive letter along with a verbal description of exactly how the letter was made. The Cursive Lesson also showed four words in which the letters were joined. I would have liked to see all of the different letter connections. Another app, I’m Learning how to Write Words and Numbers ($2.99), provided a word, sentence and blank practice sheet option; however, it didn’t have any direction on stroke order, and the lines I made were thin and somewhat wiggly, despite my best efforts. (In contrast, it was easy to get a smooth, nice-looking letter with my finger using the Zaner- Bloser application.) Most apps could be used on both the iPhone and iPad.

In addition to the iPhone and iPad applications, both Zaner-Bloser and Peterson Directed Handwriting offer other intriguing electronic learning options. Zaner-Bloser reinforces spelling with interactive whiteboards, and Peterson Directed uses electronic touch pads to practice writing with a stylus or a finger.

As with traditional handwriting practice, supportive parental supervision is vital. We parents are charged with guiding our children and requiring them to do things that are not always easy and fun but that will benefit them in the long run. Although it may be easier and more fun for children to punch a few computer keys and play unsupervised with the many colorful programs available, in the long run, supervised handwriting practice and learning basic skills such as proper letter and paragraph structure, envelope format and so forth—although not as popular—will provide more longterm benefits.

Sit with your children and watch what they are doing. Provide interesting and fun activities that encourage them to use their skills, such as keeping a diary and writing to relatives and pen pals. Emphasize that writing is and will continue to be an important skill. Back before our grandparents’ day, one could look at a person’s writing and tell what gender and socioeconomic class the writer belonged to. Clear, fluent and legible writing should be attainable by all, not just the privileged few who attend the private and parochial schools that give these skills the attention they deserve. Learning basic cursive should be foundational to learning computer skills—not the other way around.

Just as children need to learn basic math before they use calculators, they should learn handwriting before keyboarding—to experience their language in a tactile fashion, to have pride in the beautiful and individual way that they are able to express themselves, to write spontaneous letters and notes, to write poetry and to make journal entries on the spur of the moment, in a car, by candlelight, with the power out, in the middle of a forest, on a moonlit night and in any corner of the world. Turn off the computer, give them a fountain pen and some beautiful paper, and let their imaginations take flight.

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