Handwriting is far from obsolete
; Set a good example for your children: Hold
the pencil correctly and write even grocery
lists on the fridge legibly.
; Encourage kids to sit up straight when doing
homework. They’ll write more clearly.
; Get them to draw at an early age. Children
who draw often have better hand-eye coordination and generally write better.
; Teach kids to start at the top left of a page
(they have a tendency to start in the middle
of the page). Put a sticker in the upper left,
then tell them the first vertical of the first
capital letter is straight down from it, then
move right with the succeeding letters.
; Olsen recommends at least 10 minutes a day
of emphasis in early grades.
By Star Lawrence
IS THE KEYBOARD mightier than the pen?
Has handwriting become outmoded?
Far from outmoded, but maybe
neglected, says Costco member Jan Z. Olsen.
Olsen, a registered occupational therapist
and developer of development-based handwriting curricula for home school, classroom
and teacher training (
says kids are not learning handwriting, even
though they need it, as most schools no longer teach handwriting. As well, a large percentage of teachers ( 85 percent of elementary,
special ed and early childhood teachers,
according to several surveys) receive no
training in how to teach this skill, once a
proud member of the three R’s. Students in
the lower grades used to spend 45 minutes a
day perfecting their “hand.” Now, 10 minutes
a day would be considered unusual.
And when they do teach it, Olsen says,
it’s more often the old-fashioned, decorative,
slanted, Palmer-style writing. “This is difficult for left-handers,” she points out, “and for
kids with learning disabilities—which makes
it inappropriate for about one kid out of five.”
Olsen, who has been leading changes in
teaching writing since 1977, when her own
child was struggling with handwriting,
looked at European writing styles, which are
straight up and down—basically the joining
of printed letters. This is the style she recommends, as once learned, it allows students to
develop their own variations if they want.
What’s the, er, point?
But why even bother? Who needs to
write these days?
First, learning to express oneself automatically without benefit of battery or electricity
inspires confidence, according to Stephen
Peverly, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University. And, because of
a child’s motor skills, handwriting is easier to
learn than keyboarding, says Olsen.
Almost half the school day in the pri-
mary grades is spent writing by hand. Think
about workbooks, math tests, quizzes. This
carries through the higher grades. Part of the
SAT test is handwritten, with those penning
their essays in cursive scoring slightly higher
than the ones who printed, according to the
College Board. In 45 states, portions of stan-
dardized tests given in third and fourth grade
are also handwritten.
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 41
The head of her class
I rebelled against teaching for so long. I
guess I wanted to be somebody special, to
do something different than my parents
did,” she says. “Now I know the truth:
When I’m having my best days as a teacher,
I am the person I always wanted to be, and
I’m changing the world one kid at a time.
That feels really good.”
Mieliwocki’s students relish her inter-
active approach, which combines “aca-
demic minutes with fun minutes,” she says,
and involves multimedia endeavors (such
as an autobiographical radio show project,
inspired by NPR’s Story Corps), interdisci-
plinary art projects (such as posters
devoted to the grammar and language of
pop songs) and group activities (such as
playwriting). She refuses to “teach to the
test,” choosing to blaze her own trail and
trust her instincts.
“The black and white of it is I have 52
minutes a day with these kids, and a lot of
material that has to be covered,” she says.
“In some ways, a good teacher has to be a
rebel and a scientist. You try things; some
of them work and some of them don’t.
Sometimes you have to make the play
Handwriting enables better comprehension.
Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in
the Phoenix area.
that’s good for a child, and hopefully it will
test well too.”
One of the greatest lessons Mieliwocki
imparts to her students is the power of
positive thinking. “Life is very, very short.
Every day is a gift. There’s no time for
whining or complaining,” she says. “In my
classroom, as in life, there’s a lot of hard
work to do. That’s not optional. But our
attitude about it is. I want my classroom to
produce ‘can-do’ kids.”
Though most student miracles “blos-
som years after the gardening I’ve done in
their lives,” Mieliwocki occasionally bears
witness to beautiful evidence of a mission
accomplished. While consoling the stu-
dent grieving the loss of her beloved pet,
Mieliwocki saw one of the girl’s classmates
enter the classroom, put a tender arm
around her shoulder and begin comfort-
ing her, sharing the story of his own recent
loss. Before long, the tears dried and the
students were smiling at one another. “I
just stood back and thought, ‘Here they
are, taking care of each other with kind-
ness and compassion,’ ” says Mieliwocki. “I
think I’ve done my job.” C
J. Rentilly is a Los Angeles–based journalist
who writes about film, music and literature.
AUGUST 2012 ;e Costco Connection 45