Homework Battles: Handwriting Is Important

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It’s homework time. We try to guide our children through this daily exercise, helping them to retain the information they’ve learned in class. We also try not to have a nervous breakdown in the process or drink excessively as a result. That’s easier said than done.

Homework woes are different for everyone. Some children struggle with the material or with needing to focus after a long day at school. Yet others, as in our case, have a hard time giving the work they are doing proper respect. “All finished, mom!” My little underachiever skips into the kitchen wearing his I’m-done-with-tasks-and-am-ready-to-play face. I’m weary. Dragging my feet to his desk, I secretly hope that he is, indeed, all finished. Because I actually do wish that he could just play and that I had uninterrupted time to write. But life isn’t that simple.

The page that should have been filled with answers is staring back at me half-blank. There are a few lines of text huddled underneath the teacher’s typed instructions. I squint. I turn on a lamp. I turn on another one. I rub my eyes. I bring the page closer to my face. For all intents and purposes I might go to the moon and back. I still can’t read a word of what he has written. I sigh -- this will be a difficult evening after all.

His letters are tiny. Crowded on top of each other, they seem to be thrown on the page accidentally and lead-smudged in the process. “Can you read this word, baby?” I am patient and expect him to realize that a rewrite is in order. But guess what? “I can read it,” he says. In fact, I spend the next aggravating while explaining why no one without a magnifying glass and a degree in decoding (is that a profession?) can possibly read it. “Fine,” I am now wearing the face of parental resignation, “read it to me.” And his answers are far from bad. In fact, they are quite good -- imaginative, to the point, and demonstrating excellent knowledge of the material. With answers like these, why doesn’t he write them out legibly? I play the because-I-said-so-card and get a rewrite out of him. I am certain that this incident, as potential other ones, will be excellent material for his future therapy sessions. I retire to the office to think.

Homework Time
Credit: vintagechica.

Much of my son’s early childhood education was conducted in a “progressive” style. Learning is meant to happen through discovery, as part of the process of working on something. But, at the point when early literacy reaches elementary school level, I’ve noticed the focus shift from being process-oriented to being idea-oriented. And this is where trouble lives. Children are taught to treasure their thoughts for only a few moments before spitting them out on paper in form of creative spelling and sloppy handwriting. The reasoning is that if a child feels they can’t write or spell a word, they will not want to use it. The problem gets resolved in creative writing exercises because kids get to do multiple drafts. But this solution doesn’t work when it comes to simple homework assignments -- those aren’t meant to get rewrites. And while script and spelling classes are usually introduced by third grade, many children view them as separate subjects; they don’t easily apply these skills when performing writing tasks.

Aside from wondering how teachers are able to read the chicken scratch they are getting from students these days, I wonder about the benefit (at such an early age) to valuing thought so far above a work ethic. Sure, it’s important not to resort to simple words in your writing because you don’t know how to spell difficult ones. But why should the solution be to misspell them? And it would certainly be a shame not to write at all because you’re worried about your handwriting skills. But why, as a solution, should the responsibility shift to the reader (parent, teacher) to decipher code?

Perhaps, and it’s just a thought, we could ask our children to learn to spell and hand-write properly and then we’ll be thrilled to read their exceptional thoughts? If their ideas are so valuable, shouldn’t we teach them to master traditional ways of conveying them, in case technology doesn’t excel at telepathy any time soon?

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