15 January 2009 02:47 PM

Language Arts

by Dr. Rick

We’ve been writing a lot about math this month because parents have told us that’s the subject they and their students struggle most with at homework time.  We’ll take a little break from ‘rithmetic today to discuss the other two Rs, reading and ‘riting.  The reason?  Next week, Friday, January 23, is National Handwriting Day – a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of language arts.


Yes, I know, we live in a keyboard age.  I’m sitting at one now, and so are you.  But it’s important for kids to learn good handwriting skills.  Here’s why.

Handwriting reinforces phonics skills.  Kids can see that the letters they write represent the sounds of words.  They write and speak at the same time, one skill strengthening the other.


Handwriting develops motor skills.  Practicing handwriting is as important as practicing any new skill, whether it’s academic, athletic, artistic, or social.  The more practice we get, the better we are at the skill.  Take it slowly and allow for mistakes.  (I’m old enough to remember practicing handwriting – the Palmer Method – with fountain pens.  We looked like Charlie Brown trying to write with his pen and ink, with ink splotches everywhere!)


Practicing handwriting helps children to develop the fine motor skills and muscular development they need for handwriting.  Teach them about letter formation and the proper way to hold a pencil.  (I’m still amazed at the number of adults I see daily who hold pencil and pen awkwardly and inefficiently.)

Handwriting skills allow for quick communication.  Face it, there will always be times when you need to communicate with pencil or pen.  Better make sure people can read what you write.


Handwriting can motivate.  Just watch the faces of the second graders as they begin to learn cursive writing.  How grown-up they feel!  Handwriting allows them to be a part of the big kids’ world.  Watch, for example, how they experiment with their signatures, changing regularly.  Of course, the best way to encourage kids to pick up pencil or pen is to give them high interest, highly motivating writing challenges.


Once a child has mastered handwriting, then it’s time to concentrate on the actual content of that neat, legible, efficiently produced handwriting.   Why is writing important?  You might as well ask why breathing, eating, drinking, thinking, and dreaming are important.

For most of the world, the printed word – on paper or an electronic screen, however large or small – is a symbol of civilization, as important as sight and sound in passing along information, thoughts, inspirations, and culture.


Writing is thought in action.  Writing helps us to think; it encourages our minds to search for new ways of expressing thoughts we often didn’t even know we had.  It stretches us, challenges us to be clear, lucid, and concise.  It helps us to clarify our thoughts before we share them with others. It provides us with insight.

Writing allows us to engage in the world around us, to communicate, debate, share with others, to inform our fellow citizens about events or ideas.  It provides us reflection, inspiration, and spiritual growth.


Writing has enormous implications for teaching and learning.  Teachers know that a large body of research about the teaching of writing exists to help them enlighten students about writing’s values and processes.  Students know that writing, as any skill, improves with practice and use.  They even tell us they want to write more.  (See my blog of October 2, 2008, to learn what they think.)


Reading and writing go hand-in-hand.  The best advice is to read early, read often, and read for a variety of reasons.  Read directions to perform a task.  Read to become informed.  Read just for the fun of it.  Be a good role model for your kids.  Let them see you reading, with the TV turned off, so they’ll know adults read and gain skills, insights, and pleasure from it.


And live to tell about it!


P.S.  A cool new series of reading, writing, and spelling workbooks that I’ve had a small hand in preparing is now available from Random House and Sylvan Learning.  They’re for third, fourth, and fifth graders.  Check them out at your local bookstore or at  www.randomhouse.com/sylvanlearningbookstore/display.




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