Do children really need handwriting? Early Literacy and Future Learning.

Do children really need handwriting? Early Literacy and Future Learning.

Modern reality should inform the way we teach literacy skills. Teaching handwriting is one of the top goals on early years and primary school agenda. It goes together with teaching reading, spelling and numeracy. All of these skills are given top priority and introducing them to children begins as early as the child joins a nursery. The rationale behind putting strong emphasis on early literacy skills including handwriting has always been the same – these are considered basic life skills and every child needs to be given opportunity to develop them. As true as this may sound, among all this pressure, we may be failing to notice the fact that teaching literacy programmes no longer have child’s greater good at heart. 

Under pressure

Children are put under tremendous pressure to master writing and reading skills from their very early days even when they do not yet have the capacity to process the information they are exposed to.

Mark Making and drawing is one of the many ways for children to express themselves and this comes from their genuine intrinsic motivation.

Also, the methods used to support early writing and reading are often old-fashioned and not child-friendly considering what is available on the market nowadays including amazing and beautifully designed resources, books, toys and apps. The race towards better results seems to be irreversible as schools and nurseries want to demonstrate their achievements and the quality of teaching. However, conscious educators/parents can do a lot to support children’s well-being and at the same time make sure they do follow their curricula. 

Outdated methods, irrelevant goals

Exploring and experimenting with written word, signs and various mark making methods is one of the exciting ways to learn about the world.

To support early literacy, and for the purpose of this article – the handwriting skills, educators and parents need to essentially consider the implications of modern times, the reality we live in, our needs and the resources and technology that is available. Also, it is important and possible to predict the direction in which the modern reality can and most probably will take our children as our role is to prepare them for the future.

Lack of flexibility and using the same tools and outdated methods of teaching that were effective twenty and even ten years ago will not help our children become ready for the future. So, a mature educator needs to consider these implications and adopt their teaching style to support children in developing the skills they will really need. 

In this article we are not trying to say that children no longer need writing skills and especially handwriting. Our intention is not to discourage teachers from supporting essential life skills.

Our aim is to invite educators and parents to revisit the way we use our handwriting skills in our modern reality and to see how to adopt our teaching to make sure children will be able to make the most of their skills in their every day life and enjoy the process of developing them.

Handwriting and modern times

When properly and creatively used technology can offer a twist and help in developing literacy skills in general.

Let us analyse why we needed our handwriting skills ten and twenty years ago and see if we still need them the same way now.


A notebook and a pen used to be a standard tool to bring with you to school, college or university. Taking notes seemed to be the best and truly the only way to record tutors’ lecture. Today we can easily use our mobile phones to record important things we wish to listen to again whenever we need and want. Also, we will most likely be able to download our lecture content from an online library or find relevant information simply by browsing the net. There is no need to fill notebooks with scribblings just to pass the test. Some people may still prefer it but it is not a thing that you absolutely need to master due to lack of other available options.

Writing letters

Let’s face it, hardly anyone writes letters or postcards nowadays. We prefer to email or text people and accompany our digital messages with photos.

Sure a postcard or a neatly written letter might be a nice surprise for a change, but it is not the reason for which we would expect our children to spend years and hours on handwriting exercises.

Official letters, even those sent via regular post, are no longer accepted handwritten and you are expected to type them using your word processor.

Shopping/to do  lists

Whether we like it or not our newest mobile phones already has a nice app that will help you organise your shopping list without any need for pen and paper. Also, many children will most likely choose this method of recording chores, shopping lists etc.

Voice recognition

If this is not enough, for better efficiency and to assist those who for various reasons are unable to write, spell or type most computers, laptops, mobile phones and tablets have a voice recognition apps built in. They can be easily used with majority of search engines.

What do we need our handwriting for?

Children develop their fine motor skills by mark making. But they never do this to learn how to write. They do it for fun and out of curiosity.

The above examples clearly demonstrate that the need for handwriting skills is lower than before. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that most of the tasks we do in our everyday life do not require us to use this skill.

In fact, if we look more carefully, we might come to a conclusion that we need our handwriting skills for pleasure and most probably in some emergency situations.

This is not to say that our children should not need learn handwriting but at the same time it is clear there is no reason from practical point of view for them to spend hours and years to develop neat handwriting style. They can easily use this time for developing more practical skills such as learning how to take care of their bodies, typing, discovering their own talents to name a few.

Handwriting as a form of self-expression, on the other hand, can bring a lot of joy and in fact children engage in mark marking in their early years and they usually do it with excitement until they are made to spend more and more time on pen-and-paper activities.

Mark making, testing variety of writing surfaces is not only exciting but is part of child’s early world exploration.

Out of love for world exploration

Children love to scribble, experiment with variety of writing, scribbling and mark making tools and these don’t need to be pens. In fact, they will often be sticks found in the garden or in the woods or other objects which can creatively be used to leave marks. To add more, children love trying various writing surfaces and most often, if they can, they choose paper as the last resort.

They will engage with great excitement in testing how to leave marks in sand, mud, liquid, paint and any other inspiring surfaces simply because the whole experience is very multi sensory, empowering and helps them explore the world and express themselves.

At later stages of their development they may wish to leave messages in form of picture drawings, simple letters they can copy, words or phrases. But this is never their primary goal when they start to explore mark making and we as parents and educators should keep this in mind.

how to support early literacy using active learning strategies
Active Learning strategies help provide meaningful and exciting contexts to support early literacy

Time to Rethink Priorities

It is time to rethink the priorities and adjust our teaching style and learning environments to suit modern times. The above examples show that to succeed we do not necessarily need to demonstrate handwriting skills as there is simply less and less space for pen and pencil activity. At the same time, it is evident that without good spelling skills, word recognition and processing we will not be able to function effectively. We’re not thinking about being good in orthography as all of the digital devices have spell checkers built in. We’re talking about a printed word, letter awareness and typing skills which enable us to deconstruct words into syllables and letters and type them back in into our devices to help us find things in search engines, send messages and write blogs or letters. But these are entirely different skills and not necessarily the same as handwriting. A topic for another post maybe 🙂


To help you support early literacy in your setting using Active Experiential Learning, Natural Born Leaders has launched a new teacher support programme ACTIVE LEARNING BOOSTER

It’s a self-paced hands-on online training programme for Early Years and Primary Teachers who are ready to offer Future-Oriented Education based on Active Experiential Holistic Learning and Development.

Experiential Learning Future Oriented Education Teacher Training


Part of this post was first published on The Educator, written and further edited by Natural Born Leaders.

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