top of page

Look At That Weird Handwriting

I got an email last night from a lovely woman asking me about why we chose to do our handwriting program the way we did. She asked all the right questions and noticed all the unusual little quirks we’ve built into each page. I was so excited to answer this question that I immediately grabbed our designer (who is as obsessed with typography and inclusive design as I am with pedagogy) and we sat down this morning to collect our entire handwriting strategy into this post. Buckle up, because we’re about to nerd out over here.


Before we get into the mechanics of our handwriting program, let me preface this all by saying that handwriting is an art form and a tool. The written word is beautiful and typography is an independent art form in its own right, and as such, there is no one right way to do it or teach it. We not only support, but passionately encourage each child and each family to develop their own styles and artistic flairs with their unique handwriting. Traditional handwriting programs are not “wrong” and standard stroke patterns, letter shapes, and practice methods are not “obsolete.” They are simply one of many different ways to do things. 


Now, on to the fun stuff.

WHY DO WE EVEN CARE ABOUT HANDWRITING?

Let’s be realistic and very honest here. Most of us don’t hand-write very much during our days. Professional content is digital. Letters have been replaced by emails. Even grocery lists and reminder notes are mostly tapped into our phones. The argument that handwriting is an outmoded discipline has a place at the table. But, in the age of infinite information we believe it is more important than ever to understand how our brains absorb, process, and retain information. Understanding this in a very functional way gives us the ability to very deliberately control which information we devote our memory and energy to. A 2024 study conducted by the Developmental Neuroscience Laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway concluded that “the spatiotemporal pattern from visual and proprioceptive information obtained through the precisely controlled hand movements when using a pen, contribute extensively to the brain’s connectivity patterns that promote learning.”


In short, handwriting is a powerful tool that activates neuropathways and can help people learn better, faster, and more efficiently.


Aside from the therapeutic benefits of writing, the artistic merit of the artform, the physical benefits to a child’s muscular development, coordination, and fine motor skills, handwriting, at TSW, is viewed as a study skill. And as such, we have organized our handwriting program to support foundational reading and phonics skills, as well as overall comprehension.


THE PROBLEM WITH THE ENGLISH ALPHABET

One in ten people are thought to be influenced by Dyslexia. That is a HUGE percentage of the population. We won’t get into the details of Dyslexia and Dysgraphia in this post, but what we will say is that these differences affect the way children (and adults) read, write, learn, and ultimately think. That means this is a serious topic that must be addressed and supported from the very earliest elements of education. 


Traditional handwriting practice divides letters into three evenly spaced sections.



This allows for most letters in the English alphabet to be formed around the even shape of the letter “o”.



While this system produces beautifully symmetrical letters it also poses an inherent challenge for non-neurotypical readers and writers. This very uniform design where each letter is quite consistent in width and spacing, can make it harder for dyslexic readers to distinguish between different letters and words. 


Words that include strings of similarly shaped letters look extremely similar and it becomes harder to distinguish specific letters the longer a user reads or attempts to write in this style



The even spacing of the ascender, x-height, and descender reduces the opportunity for differentiation as the letters are written and formed by hand.

BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN HANDWRITING AND TYPE

Most standard typefaces that we see in printed and digital materials, do not use this even spacing. The x-height typically takes up the largest percentage of vertical space. The ascenders and descenders are squished and the emphasis on letters formed around the “o” base shape is exaggerated.



The result is that many of the most commonly used fonts present letters that look extremely similar. In common fonts like Arial and Helvetica, many letters have nearly identical shapes, which can cause further confusion. For example, 'b' and 'd', 'p' and 'q', and 'n' and 'h' have such similar forms that they can be recreated with simple transformations. This can cause mistakes of letter reversals in reading and writing, and make it harder for kids learning phonetic sounds to accurately attribute specific sounds to their corresponding letters and digraphs.



For our earliest readers, who haven’t yet internalized the patterns of letter formation and don’t know which subtle details to look for, the letters can appear to all look the same. Even for more experienced readers who are influenced by dyslexia, the similar shapes and proportions make reading laborious and overly challenging. This drain on energy shifts the focus away from the purpose of text–the bigger meaning and the learning that the text is simply a vehicle for.



This problem is exacerbated for emerging readers and non-neurotypical profiles. Kids are often “trained” on the standard spacing of letters during handwriting and letter/sound awareness activities. There is a disconnect between the shapes of words and letters that they are trained on and the shapes they see in printed and digital texts. The end result is that what children learn to read and what they learn to write are very different sets of characters.

Explore a brand new way to homeschool. Learn more about what makes TSW so unique here.



A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO HANDWRITING

If you’ve spent any time with the handwriting activities created by The Story Weavers, you’ve probably already noticed that they look very different from your traditional handwriting drills. The short answer to why we’ve done this is actually very simple, and can be broken down into two main goals.

1. We aim to bridge the gap between handwriting and digital text by training kids on the proportions they are most likely to see in books, signs, and digital media.

2. Increase letter differentiation so help non-neurotypicals distinguish each letter from the rest in a word or sentence.

WHAT DID WE CHANGE?

One of the first things we changed with our handwriting activities is the the distance between the letters and words. You’ll find wider spaces between letters, wider individual letters, and more space between each word in a sentence. More space makes it easier for learners in the elementary levels to pick out and identify the individual letters in a word. 



One of the things most people notice right away is the proportions of our letters. The x-height in our handwriting activities is much larger than what you might be used to. These adjusted proportions are more reflective of digital fonts, and help to create word shapes that kids can recognize in both type and handwritten content.



The cute little tails on the ends of letters are called “terminals” and they serve a much bigger purpose than just looking really cool. But they do look cool, don’t they? You’ll find in exaggerated terminals on “l” “t” and a few other letters. These help to make letters that look similar to each other stand apart. We use terminals to add unique elements to letters and make them easier to identify. 


This helps with letter recognition and accurately recalling which letters belong to which sounds. 



You might have noticed that our round letters seem a little bigger than the others. Large “bowls” (the rounded bodies of letters) create an opportunity for non-standard oval shapes. Non standard shapes help to differentiate “a” from “o” from “e” and the many other lowercase letters that form similar shapes. 



Did you know that the little dots above the “i” and “j” have a name? They do! They’re called “tittles.” We have raised the tittles on all the relevant letters to break up the lines of word shapes. 


When tittles are very near the tops of their letters it’s easy to skim over those letters without noting that you’re looking at a lowercase “i” not a “l”. Especially in digital fonts, these letters are easily mixed up. More space between these elements makes the unique identity of each more noticeable. 



You’ll also find more pronounced connections between the ascenders and the base shape of the letters. This is just one more element that helps readers uniquely identify letter shapes. 



Throughout all our handwriting activities, you’ll find greater differences between letters than in most other programs. Our team has spent countless hours researching and testing handwriting concepts to lead us to where we are today and the official TSW approach to handwriting.


Our cursive curriculum, introduced late level 3 and in level 4 is also pretty unique. We will do another post on that very soon!



 There is so much more research and insight that has gone into this very untraditional style of handwriting. I could write several more pages on this topic, but for now, I will leave you with this: Yes. Our handwriting program is most definitely weird. And that’s what makes it so special. 


By taking the time to really look at the needs of real learners and incorporating inclusive design principles, we make sure that every child and every family can develop their own, unique style and rely on handwriting as an essential study skill. But it doesn’t stop here. We’re constantly testing, redesigning, and improving. Every element of The Story Weavers program is a living, growing discipline. As research is released, as designs are tried and tested by families, as new creative ideas pop up, the program grows and evolves in kind. 


Jump into a brand new way to homeschool.



Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page