At around 3 or 4 years old, kids may start to practice writing, and included among the scribbles may be recognizable letters. For example, you may notice your child writes all of the letters of his or her name in a seemingly random way on different parts of the piece of paper. That's because kids learn to write individual letters before they learn how to put them together to form a word.
As they continue to read and develop an understanding of how words work, kids start to understand how to group letters into words. Between kindergarten and first grade, most learn to put letters together into words and will use these words to label pictures that they draw. Kids this age usually use only capital letters and will not include spaces between words. They will also use "invented spelling," writing words with no vowels (for example, BBYDLL for baby doll).
Eventually, with practice and formal schooling, kids learn what are called the conventions of print - writing from left to right, the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters, how to put spaces between words, and how to use correct spelling in most instances.
As kids get older and develop more motor control, their handwriting becomes smaller and neater. Between second and fourth grade, kids learn to write in cursive and will apply the conventions of handwriting automatically.
Importance of Handwriting
Even as we move to a society driven by keyboards, kids still need to learn to write by hand. Handwriting is so much more than simply putting letters on a page; it is a key part of learning to read and communicate. In fact, experts think that developing writing skills reinforces reading skills and vice versa.
In order to read, a child needs to understand that letters stand for sounds and that the sounds are put together to make words. Learning to write letters is an important part of this understanding.
When preschoolers start imitating the letters that they see around them, they show that they understand the connection between the sounds they hear and the words they see on the page. When kindergartners use "invented" spelling, they're practicing writing words the way they sound, which helps them as they learn to read. When first-graders use words to create a poem or write about an experience, they're experimenting with language and sharing their stories with those around them.
As kids grow older and start to use a keyboard, the motor control and communication skills they've gained through handwriting will help them become more successful writers because they'll know how to transfer their thoughts into words.
Handwriting is also important because kids are required to use it daily in school from kindergarten on. Children who struggle with the mechanics of handwriting may have trouble taking notes or tests or completing their schoolwork. This can affect both their self-esteem and their attitude toward school.