Each year schools up and down the country focus on encouraging their pupils to write their best handwriting for the National Schools Handwriting Competition, run by SATIPS and sponsored by the Manuscript Pen Company. The huge advantage of this competition is that everyone in the school (up to the age of 13 for children) can enter for free, and that includes the teachers, caretakers, secretaries, teachers’ assistants – there is no selection of only few entries by schools – and it shows that handwriting is important no matter what your age.
What the four-year-old prize-winners (above right – and in each case in this post, the winner is shown on the top and second and third prize-winners below) and the five year-olds (right) won’t fully appreciate is that, if they continue to write well, then they should not lose marks in exams as highlighted in an article in The Times in May. ‘Almost two-thirds of teachers said that they had marked down pupils because of illegible answers and three in ten reported a deterioration in children’s handwriting in the past five years.’ More to the point, children themselves (39%) were more worried about their handwriting in exams than not being able to remember things (37%).
With the increased concerns about how easy it is to cheat using a tablet or computer, it looks likely that examiners will emphasise the importance of handwritten answers more in the future. As educators, we are doing our children a disservice if we do not equip them with the skills they need to perform at their best in examination conditions. The well-developed cursive style of handwriting of the Overall Winner of Class A (seen on the right here) should have few problems about performing well.
How can teachers and parents help their children to develop good handwriting. I posted Top Ten Tips for Children’s Handwriting on my website blog this year. It is not difficult to ensure that children develop a grip which will not cause them pain later in life from a very early age, particularly if and when they go on to sit 3-hour examinations.
Nor is it rocket science to help children develop that good grip by placing paper and books in the best position. So for neither should the paper be straight but slanted, and for right-handers, the top right-hand corner should be highest, and for left-handers the top left-hand corner should be highest (it is very easy to remember). This helps left-handers particularly to avoid developing an ‘over-the-top’ claw-like grip which causes strain on the wrist, forearm, shoulder and spine. If pen-hold is a problem, then triangular grips that slide over pens and pencils can be very helpful.
Ensuring that children do not have to reach up to write, nor hunch their bodies over a table are also essential. Both seating positions – stretching and hunching – may result in pain and poor posture which could cause problems later. No-one enjoys writing if their experience of it brings back memories of being uncomfortable or hurt. Standard issue chairs and tables are not the best for children of many different heights in a class from quite small to very tall – one having to stretch too much and the other having to bend over too much.
And, of course, writing at a slope is far more preferable to on the flat, but I sense this is a lost cause nowadays! Those old-fashioned wooden desks with a sloping lid were far better for writing, especially when doing so at length.
Research has also shown that children who hand-write, rather than type, are better at composition and reading and also have better memories. The same research from Washington University also found that children ‘wrote’ more quickly when hand-writing their compositions than when ‘writing’ them on a computer, even for those who had learned to touch type. Many authors, too, find that handwriting allows ideas to flow more easily as the brain keeps up with the speed of the hand-writer. What better proof then to emphasise the importance of everyone learning to handwrite well and how much it helps children’s learning in so many other ways.
This year’s competition was as difficult to judge as previous ones, with many examples of excellent handwriting, which will surely stand all in good stead in future years. As always, the judges looked for well-formed letters. It is important when it is time for speeding up that the heights of ascenders are consistent with the letter ‘t’ usually being smaller than that of other ascenders but higher than the x-height, the body of the letters.
Once letters are joined, the joins should be smooth and natural. Of course, not every letter in a word has to join, but where they do it should not look contrived.
There are always some difficult letter combinations, and the ‘fl’ and ‘bl’ combinations in this Overall Group C winning entry is an example of those combinations being well resolved.
There should also be a consistency of slant. For some people their natural ‘ductus’ results in letters that slant forwards, or the letters are upright, or backwards. Consistency is more important than the direction, and examples of all three can be seen in these prize-winners.
It has been said in previous Judge’s Reports, but placing/position on the page/paper does make a difference. It is not that difficult for a teacher to indicate (or even draw a margin for younger children) so that the poems are not crammed tightly over on the left-hand side. A beautifully placed piece of writing, as in the winner of the ten year-olds (above) comes as a real joy!
And the style of lettering makes no difference either – Italic, round letters, Copperplate-style looped letters are all in evidence here.
And to show that good handwriting does not stop when children leave school, the three prize-winners in the Staff section are all to be praised for a natural, legible and consistent style.