Acquisition of Automatic Handwriting Skills


The Letter Leaders handwriting program is not only developmentally appropriate, but also places a strong emphasis on practice and feedback to teach pre-writing and handwriting skills.

Acquisition of automatic handwriting skills is critical.  Researchers theorize that attention demands are freed up for more advanced process-oriented skills once a child is able to handwrite automatically (Marr, Windsor, & Cermak, 2001; McHale & Cermak, 1992). This automaticity enables students to attend fully to the more content-oriented aspects of written expression such as sentence structure, story formulation, and spelling. These content-oriented aspects increasingly become the teaching focus beginning as early as the first grade (Christensen, 2004). Handwriting is then thought of in terms of its usefulness for producing words, numbers and sentences that are meaningful and related to what is being taught in the classroom (Berninger, 1994). If a child labors over the motor aspect of handwriting, the overall quality of his or her schoolwork may suffer as studies show that legible handwriting has been linked to school achievement and success (Graham, 1992). Daniel and Froude (2010) and Markham (1976) found that students that produced high quality work content with poor handwriting received lower grades than students that produced the same work content with good handwriting. Additionally, there is evidence supporting a link between the impact poor handwriting has on lowering grades and the child’s confidence and self-view as a student (Engel-Yeger, Nagauker-Yanuv & Rosenblum, 2009).


Without formal intervention, children who have difficulty with handwriting in kindergarten through second grade continue with their struggles as they progress through school and, in many cases, achieve less school success as the cognitive and motor demands increase (Graham, 2011).  Given this research evidence and that literature will show that 10% or more of children will struggle with achieving adequate handwriting skills in elementary school (Karlsdottir & Stefansson, 2002), the author has proposed that it is essential that all preschool children be screened for indicators of possible future handwriting problems during their pre-kindergarten year. The pre-kindergarten preschool year is the optimal time to intervene because children are not yet required to use handwriting as a functional form of communication or to demonstrate knowledge of what is being learned in the classroom (Tucha, Tucha,  & Lange, 2008).


Experts in early motor development have shown that children begin to engage in prewriting perceptual motor skills such as scribbling with crayons and imitating vertical lines as early as 12 months of age (Beery, 1989; Henderson & Pehoski, 1995). Over time and with practice, these prewriting skills mature and by 36 months of age, it is developmentally appropriate for a child to form vertical lines, horizontal lines, and circles (Beery, 2006). By 4 years of age, a typically developing child should be able to successfully manipulate a writing utensil to begin produce basic shapes, lines and letters. This becomes the basis for forming words and sentences (Beery, 2006; Henderson & Pehoski, 1995).  By 72 months or 6 years, a child should be able to form more complex shapes including all letters of the manuscript alphabet (Beery, 2006).