14. Typing as a Modification for Severe Handwriting Difficulties

Question Fourteen: I understand that part of the reading process is a child reading his own writing before that of others, and the value of muscle memory in language arts learning. I wonder about a child who is discouraged by his handwriting. I wonder about the comparative benefit. For example, if a child still flips letters and numbers, is it neurologically beneficial to continue to hand write them incorrectly, or is it better to type them? If a child views looking at his own handwriting as a humiliating experience, does the muscle memory outweigh that? 

Handwriting is important at every stage of learning. Read The Roadmap to Literacy chapter 3.2 #1 Why Handwriting Matters (pages 100–101).  Also read the article “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades” (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html.) It is very important that students learn handwriting.

That said, handwriting should not be this much of a struggle. You are right to ask what to do, but you have the question framed in a way that will not yield a helpful answer. You ask, “Is it neurologically beneficial to continue to handwrite [flipped letters] or is it better to type them?” The answer is it is not beneficial to repeat mistakes—it only cements in incorrect habits. It is also bad to use typing to avoid the problem because typing would not fix the underlying issue. The solution is not to type but to deal with the underlying cause.  See the answers to questions 5 and 6 for information on how to remediate handwriting difficulties.

It is very important to deal with the underlying cause for many reasons. First, the underlying cause will most likely affect things other than handwriting. For example, untreated vision problems or sensory-motor issues will create new problems down the road. Second, using technology is a very poor substitute for handwriting as documented in the article given above. Third, using screens creates its own set of problems. Waldorf education has long known that television ruins students’ imaginations and prevents them from doing healthy things such as playing. All the objections to television apply to other screens (computer/phone/tablet).

In many ways, screens are worse than TV. Computers, phones, and tablets expose students to higher levels of electromagnetic pollution than television would because the students are in closer proximity to the screen. Furthermore, any Wi-Fi enabled device also exposes students to radiation. For example, two minutes on a cell phone call with a phone pressed to the head results in changes to the brain that take an hour to normalize. The long-term health effects of such exposure are only now being studied.  (See Roadmap to Literacy pages 544–545 for more information.)

There are other long-term considerations as well. Students should not use any screen that has blue light after dinner because blue light interferes with sleep, and poor sleep interferes with learning and health.  Using a computer that has Internet access is a major temptation for students. If the student needs the screen to write, how will the use of the screen impact his studies in the future? These are things to think about.

That said, there is a small subset of students who need to type because their handwriting problem is so severe. This subset of students is small. Offering typing as a modification should be the last resort, and it should be an option only if the occupational therapist (or another qualified professional) recommends it.  For these students, there is a really good solution: the Alphasmart Neo.

The Alphasmart Neo is a brand of portable, battery-powered, word-processing keyboards that are great for word processing. You can hook them up to a computer or printer to print off documents. They are discontinued, but they are available used on line for under $50.  They are incredibly durable, and they are a great educational tool to use when it is time for students to start typing their papers. You can buy models that do nothing but word processing and thus by-pass all the temptations available on a computer, from the Internet to all the fun color and font options available on Microsoft Word. If you want to avoid exposing your children to unnecessary radiation, get the Alphasmart Neo rather than the Alphasmart Neo 2. Simpler is better.

About the Author Jennifer Militzer-Kopperl