Choosing and using the right pen can help to avoid smudging; make handwriting look smarter and prevent hand strain when writing for extended periods of time. Everyone is different, so the type of pen required is different to.
There are three main points to think about when choosing a pen for handwriting:
- The type of ink it uses.
- The size and weight of the pen.
- The type of point it has.
1. Types of ink used:
- Oil-based ink
- The ink is quick drying and so does not smudge easily
- The ink flows smoothly depending on the point style of the pen
- Ink can stop and start for no apparent reason
- Water-based ink
- The ink does not dry as quickly as oil-based ink so can smudge
- The ink flows very smoothly
2. Pen sizes and weights
Because pens come in different shapes, sizes and weights it is important for your child to try out a range of pen styles to help them find the best fit for them. Remember one pen style does not suit all, everyone’s hand size and finger length are different.
Things to consider when choosing a pen:
- Does it feel too short or too long?
- Does it feel too thin or too thick?
- Does it feel too heavy or too light?
- Some children like a smooth round pen shape.
- Some prefer a textured round pen shape.
- While others may prefer a hexagon shaped pen.
3. Pen points
Pens come with different point or nib widths and shapes. The size and shape of the point gives different line thicknesses and are usually purchased as point sizes: extra fine, fine, medium or bold (some will have a measurement on as well).
A fine pen point produces thin lines and some children will find this can help to make writing neater.
A medium and bold point give thicker lines which many may find smoother to write with, though the letter size may be slightly larger because of it.
Once again it is important that children try out a range of pen point sizes to help them find the best fit for them.
Remember one pen point style does not suit all, everyone’s fine motor skills and writing pressures are different.
Why do we use pencils when we start to teach handwriting?
Modern classrooms use a range of technology, such as interactive white boards, so why are our children still using pencils when learning how to handwrite?
Pencils are a great first tool for learning to handwrite!
- They come in different widths and lengths (to cater for the different gross and fine motor skills of the children).
- Have different lead thickness and grades (soft to hard) of lead.
- Provide varying degrees of resistance (depending on lead grade) which slows down the letter formation process enough for young children to have the control required to start to form their letters correctly. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.
- As a child develops their handwriting skills to a more fluid handwriting style the pencil type can be easily changed.
- Cheap and easily accessible.
- A drawing medium which young children are already comfortable using.
- Often a one size fits all approach to the pencil type, rather than tailoring to a child’s needs.
- Difficulty in maintaining a good writing point, results in the child needing to use different levels of pressure, making handwriting hard work.
- Over use of rubbing out mistakes (wastes time and develops a culture where making a mistake is seen as a failure). Making mistakes is how we learn, it is not failing!
Pencils are practical in School:
- With pencil, children find it more difficult to write on one another and their clothes.
- You do not have a whole class of children clicking pens (Velcro is bad enough).
- Pen lids are not constantly lost or being swallowed.
- Pencils seem less of a problem when stuck in ears or up the nose.
- They are cheap.
- Pencils do not explode, leaving a mess all over the room and any child that happened to be in the room at the time.
- Time not wasted by trying to suck the ink up out of the pen.
Handwriting is a complicated skill to learn and having the right tools for the job always helps. It is worth spending a little time with children using a range of pencil styles and lead grades to find ones that they find comfortable to use for handwriting. These will be different from those they use for drawing. As their handwriting skills develop so the type and grade of pencil they begin to favour will change.
Research in recent years by psychologists, educationalists and neuroscientists has found that older children, with better handwriting skills, showed greater neural activity in areas associated with working memory (used for planning, ideas generation and composition skills for written work).
Due to the way that our working memory functions the handwriting process can impact on the quality of the work. For instance, those who have poor handwriting ability use a disproportionate amount of their working memory capacity in recalling and forming the letters, effectively blocking the higher level composition process (Gathercole, Pickering, Knight & Stegmann 2004, cited Medwell et al. 2007).
This is because children with fluent handwriting skills have developed an automotive (instant, subconscious) ability to recall and reproduce letter patterns, making handwriting a lower level process within their working memory.
This would suggest that learning to handwrite with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility is a vital goal if we want our children to reach their true potential. Learning to join letters is therefore an important step to achieving this. Once handwriting has been mastered a child can focus more effectively on the composition and structure of the piece, which requires planning and logical thought processes, so that the plot or argument can be fully explored and presented.
Here at Teach Handwriting we also recognise that for some SEND children learning to join their handwriting may not be a logical option. However this does not mean that using a single letter font style stops them from handwriting with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility (though it may never be as fast as a joined font).
Medwell. J, Wray. D: Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know, Literacy Vol. 41, No 1, April 2007.