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Handwriting in Early Childhood: A Strategy for School Success

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The Importance of School Readiness

In late 2014, President Barack Obama announced a $1 billion investment in early childhood education in the United States, calling it “one of the best investments we can make” (PBS, 2014). The benefits of preschool and early learning programs for children have been well documented over the last several decades: early care and education programs positively affect children’s cognitive and social development, both in terms of immediate gains and lasting benefits for educational achievement. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds particularly benefit from high quality preschool programs that focus on kindergarten readiness (Barnett, 2008).

Quality preschool programs focus on kindergarten readiness because readiness is the primary predictor of kindergarten success. Children who enter school with foundational skills such as proficiency in early reading are more likely to enjoy ongoing academic success, to attain higher levels of education, and to secure employment as young adults (Child Trends Data Bank, 2015). According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, preschool that focuses on language, social, emotional, and cognitive development may eliminate the achievement gaps by ages 5 and 8 between low-income and middle-income children (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2013). The National Research Council concluded that “academic success, as defined by high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone’s reading skill at the end of third grade. A person who is not at least a moderately skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school” (National Research Council, 1998).

Literacy and language development are key foundations of readiness, and research over the last three decades also suggests that handwriting is a key component of literacy in preschool and early childhood. Forming letters and words by hand is a complex skill: it requires a child to coordinate letter formation, letter knowledge, and fine motor skills. Research shows significant links between children’s early attempts at writing and their developing knowledge about how books and printed materials work and how words on a page can create meaning (Zhang, Hur, Diamond, & Powell, 2015)—that is, emerging reading skills. Learning to write letters and form words are powerful first steps toward academic success.

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