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Handwriting Development: When Handwriting Milestones aren’t Developed the “Write” Way, Brain-Building Activity Suffers |

Handwriting Development: When Handwriting Milestones aren’t Developed the “Write” Way, Brain-Building Activity Suffers

This article provides helpful information about handwriting development and handwriting milestones for better learning development and brain activity. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.

When you sit down to write a shopping list or a thank you card, you may not realize it, but you are in the process of one of the most complex behaviors that a human being can perform. The handwriting process is a very complicated and intricate one, combining multiple brain centers and skills. Many authors, including J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and Hemingway, have penned entire books in longhand. Each author had access to writing their manuscripts with either a computer or typewriter, but chose on occasion to put pen to paper and transcribe their ideas in ink. Handwriting is sort of magic, an art that a child can get lost in and find their creativity.

Scientifically, handwriting has an amazing effect on a child’s brain. Organizing a thought on paper is by far more difficult than the verbal speech process. If you are a parent that keeps pestering your child to practice writing their letters or words, or to write a longer story because you think handwriting is one of the building blocks for learning…you’re right.

Handwriting Development Increases Neural Activity in the Brain

In a study at Indiana University, researchers took something high-tech (an MRI machine) and looked at something low-tech such as writing with a pencil. When kids brains were looked at with an MRI, researchers found through a series of tests that the children who had practiced printing letters showed higher neural activity than those who simply looked at the letters and did other letter learning tasks.

The practice of handwriting can help with the learning of letters, understanding letter sounds, learning shapes, and it also improves idea expression and helps with fine motor skills. When neural activity is high, learning becomes faster and more efficient. Handwriting development requires input from a different language center than the speech process. Both, however, are located in the left hemisphere of the brain.

For the handwriting process to become fluent, a certain level of unconscious skill must be present. This automatic process is called “graphic maturity.” For a child, from infancy to age 10, there must be a consistent exposure to fine motor skills and handwriting symbols, letters, numbers and words (see helpful handbook here). Why is this important? The corticospinal tract that reaches all the way to your child’s fingertips does not fully develop until around the age of 10. When the child’s handwriting skills start to become automated (for example, knowing the movements to shape an “e”), the child begins to be graphically mature with their handwriting development. When this occurs, the oxygen and energy is freed up from thinking about fine motor movements and visual recognition to creative writing thinking and story development.

Handwriting Improves Memory

Many kids and adults in school are trending towards taking notes on a laptop. What if taking notes by hand actually increased memory function? Many researchers and educators believe that taking notes by hand has a longer-lasting effect on memory than typing the information. When writing something down, the relationship between your child’s sensory-motor skills and visual recognition signals in the brain seem to create a better recall pathway to our storage center. The movements involved in handwriting development leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which then helps the child to recognize letters, words and meanings, and thereby establishes a connection between reading, writing and recalling.

Handwriting Development is Linked to Reading

Handwriting promotes a child’s visual memory. Poor visual memory is one of the most common reasons students experience difficulty when reading. When a child writes a word consistently (along with seeing it), it boosts their visual memory and word bank. Difficulty with visual memory makes reading, comprehension and spelling very problematic.

Studies show that failure to write letters automatically and legibly interferes with not only future writing, but also future reading skills. Mastering handwriting, knowing how the word feels when it is written, will help the child recognize letters and words quickly, thus pushing them to become good readers.

Handwriting Development in Stages

Many children begin to scribble on paper (or any available surface) by the time they are able to grab a writing tool. Typically, children begin to hold a crayon or pencil by using the whole hand (placing the fist around the writing object). This is the beginning stage of the intricate fine motor skills that will become handwriting essentials. Later, they move to a more mature grasp, sometimes trying to hold a crayon or pencil with all fingers while raising the forearm up. In mature stages, the thumb, middle finger and index finger hold the pencil while the forearm rests on the surface.

Many skills must come together for handwriting readiness. The integration of properly working sensory systems is a necessity for writing. Letter formation requires perception, vision and motor skills to work together.

As your child’s sensorimotor systems develop and your child gains maturity, their handwriting skills progress.

Handwriting Development Stages

To view the progression of your child’s handwriting development, here are the milestones most children reach as they grow.


Performance Milestone

Skills to Help Child

10-15 Months
Scribbles on PaperOffer crayons and paper frequently to your child for consistent exposure to handwriting tools.
2 Years
Can initiate a horizontal, vertical, circular or curved lineBuilding muscle strength in the hands and fingers is the goal during this age. Give the toddler a spray bottle with water. The gripping and squeezing of the bottle builds their hand and finger muscles necessary for writing.
3 Years
Can copy different types of lines, straight and curved on a piece of paperContinue to provide opportunities for writing and coloring, but with many different options to spark creativity and interest. For example, help your child use chalk, markers, dry erase board markers, crayons, colored pencils, and other options. Also encourage picking up small objects with tweezers, which contributes to an increase of intricate muscle use.
4-5 Years
Can copy a cross, right directional line, left directional line and diagonal line, some letters and numbers and may begin to copy their own nameUse tracing sheets with numbers and letters, like you see here. Create different shaped objects and then ask your child to draw the same shape. Continue to build hand and finger strength by playing and building with play dough. In addition, playing dot-to-dot games or connecting dots on a whiteboard or chalkboard are very helpful. See all activities here.
5-6 Years
Copy a triangle shape, prints own name, copies upper and lowercase lettersPractice with scissors and cut lots of shapes and lines on paper. To help your child use the tripod fingers on a pencil, take a small ball and have the child use their three fingers (thumb, index and middle) and move the ball up and down their legs to their hips by “walking” with those fingers.

Handwriting Exercises for Big Emotions and Cognitive Development

If your child or students are overly emotional and you suspect there are disconnections in the brain, the Rewiring the Brain Roadmap may help. It can give you direction on how to approach big emotions and help you identify their emotional behavior “type.” To download your copy, enter your information below:

Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs

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