Therapist says handwriting is essential for kids’ development

    Valuable skill or hopelessly outdated?

    Educators are debating intensely how important it is to teach handwriting. Cursive writing is already disappearing from the curriculum in many schools — there’s no requirement to teach it in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware.

    And some experts say pen and paper should give way to the keyboard altogether.

    But a Philadelphia occupational therapist says handwriting is much more than letters on paper — it’s crucial to kids’ development.

    Chalk in hand and focused, a group of preschool-aged children are writing letters on small black boards at Grow Thru Play, an occupational and physical therapy center in Philadelphia.

    The kids began the session with a series of movement exercises, crawling around with bean bags on their backs, tracing shapes with their fingers. Grow Thru Play owner and occupational therapist Tara Martello says a lot of developmental skills go into drawing the letter “A.”

    “Adequate postural control, visual motor integration — using your vision and your hand to produce something that you saw, so it is a lot of these higher level motor skills as well as cognitive skills,” she says. “You are using your brain, you are using your body.”

    Martello says struggles with handwriting often are a red flag for broader issues.

    “I get a lot of referrals where parents are concerned about handwriting, the teacher is concerned about handwriting.” she says. “And there are so many other things that we have to get to, before handwriting.”

    Martello works with kids to strengthen their core, arm and hand muscles. She works on fine-motor skills and movement coordination.

    She says she is seeing more and more kids who are missing developmental milestones — something she suspects stems in part from too much technology and “screen time” and not enough physical play and exploration.

    If handwriting is eliminated, she said it could rob children of yet another opportunity to practice important skills.

    “The push seems to be, well, let’s just move to computers and keyboarding because it’s too difficult anyway,” she says. The reason for the difficulty could be that “there’s something going on here, our kids are not developing the skills needed.”

    Martello says getting rid of handwriting would be equivalent to “shooting the messenger” — eliminating the task because kids struggle with it, rather than addressing underlying issues.

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