Try this: with your non-writing hand, write your name.

Now write chrysanthemum. With your non-writing hand of course.

Tougher, isn’t it? Why? Because you are so used to writing your name that you can transfer your knowledge relatively easily. Writing a word you rarely use (I’m guessing here) puts a far greater demand on your memory, coordination and spelling ability.

Welcome to the world of dyslexia!

 Children with dyslexia often have problems with handwriting.

When learning to read, children first have to link the shape of the word on the page with the sound it makes. Then, when it comes to writing, they have to recreate that shape back onto paper. For children with dyslexia, poor memory means that decoding these patterns and making these links is too demanding. As a result, they frequently fail to develop the automatic flow of writing which will help them to express themselves clearly and easily in writing.

The British Dyslexia Association, among many others, recommends that children learn the continuous cursive style – or ‘joined-up writing’ – from the beginning. Typically, when first learning to write, children ‘print’ their letters. They then move on to ‘joined up’ writing at a later stage. For children with working memory difficulties, learning two styles of handwriting can add an extra layer of problem and cause confusion. It is, therefore, much more helpful if a young child can learn to use a single system of handwriting right from the start.

The most important feature of cursive writing is that each letter is formed without taking the pencil off the paper – and consequently, each word is written in one, flowing movement.

The key advantages to this system are:

  • By making each letter in one movement, children’s hands develop a ‘physical memory’ of it, making it easier to produce the correct shape;
  • Because letters and words flow from left to right, children are less likely to reverse letters which are typically difficult (like b/d or p/q);
  • There is a clearer distinction between capital letters and lower case;
  • The continuous flow of writing ultimately improves speed and spelling.

There are some disadvantages:

  • Letters written in cursive style can look quite different from printed letters in books.
  • In the early stages, writing can look messy as the movements are slightly more complex than print-style letters.

The BDA has suggestions about lined paper, posture and pens and pencils. And, of course, Touch Typing is a crucial skill. I recommend Dance Mat – mainly because it’s free to download from the BBC website. When pupils use a computer for written work more concentration can be focused on the content. I think everyone should learn to touch type when they are around 7. I know this means leaving something out of a crowded curriculum but when we consider their needs (all children – not just those with literacy difficulties) we must recognise the necessity of equipping them for life.

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