The new National Curriculum which comes into force in England from September 2014 states that “Writing…depends on fluent, legible and, eventually, speedy handwriting.” In contrast, Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence emphasises the need to write independently, without insisting on handwritten text. This raises questions about the importance of handwriting in a contemporary curriculum.
Why learn handwriting?
Handwriting and signatures can be an important expression of our identity. A handwritten note can communicate more personally than an official letter. Learning to write numbers clearly also makes numeracy more straightforward than setting out sums on screen or in braille. So, although learning to use a keyboard or touchscreen is vital for independent learning, children with vision impairment also have a right to learn and be taught handwriting.
But without timely expert support, the handwritten work of children with vision impairment often doesn’t accurately reflect their knowledge, understanding or what they wish to express. They often face additional challenges to developing 'fluent, legible writing' because of their vision impairment.
The most common handwriting difficulties experienced by children with a vision impairment include:
- uneven spacing of letters within words
- running words together
- difficulties keeping to the lines on lined paper
- inconsistent formation of individual letters
- variation in size and slant of letters
- missing out words and parts of words
- difficulties writing within margins.
Children need to develop gross motor control before developing the fine motor skills to use their hands to control a pen or pencil. Children with vision impairment often have reduced opportunities for physical activity in their early years and fewer opportunities to see and imitate the movements of others. To help them develop their motor skills for handwriting, they need as much opportunity as possible for physical activity in the early years.
Vision problems affecting handwriting
Restricted visual field
Children who may not be able to see the whole of a word at a time can find copying activities particularly challenging, as they are constantly having to locate and refocus which can be slow, frustrating and tiring.
Focus and glare
For some children the letter or word they are copying or writing is out of focus to some degree, perhaps as the result of nystagmus or because glasses or lenses cannot correct sufficiently to give a sharp image. This blurred image can make it harder for children to learn to form the right shapes in the early stages of handwriting development. In addition children with photophobia can experience disabling glare when attempting to read or write on certain types of paper.
So, how can you help your child overcome these challenges?