Teachers Say Kids Today Write In Chicken Scratch — And It's A Much Bigger Issue Than Parents Realize

Is kids' lack of handwriting instruction partly to blame for the ongoing literacy crisis?

child practicing handwriting PeopleImages /Canva Pro

Most of us remember spending years of school learning how to write, first tracing letters, then writing our names and eventually progressing to cursive.

But as technology has taken over, that tradition has at least partly fallen by the wayside, and education experts say it's having a major impact on kids' learning as a whole.

Teachers say kids today write in chicken scratch, and it's impacting their ability to learn. 

Everywhere you look nowadays, there's another story about how today's kids are incredibly poor readers, at least compared to previous generations. They often read at levels years behind their actual age.


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Even professors are noticing that college students are behind on reading skills, and the problem has been blamed on everything from the pandemic to, of course, social media. 


But teachers say there might be a far simpler explanation — the so-called "death of handwriting," which has an impact on learning in general that many parents may not suspect. 

With the rise of technology, practicing handwriting is less common than ever, and teachers say it's becoming a huge problem.

If you're of a certain age, you likely have vivid memories of your mom or dad holding your hand and guiding it as you learned how to write letters and words, how to make them in a straight line, neatly strung together. 

Those practices are now a thing of the past, though — especially after the pandemic. A 2021 survey of elementary school teachers found that 83% noticed a significant negative impact on handwriting skills after a single year of online schooling during lockdowns. 



Case in point: A fifth-grader named PJ, recently featured in a story by NJ.com, who is routinely told his handwriting is "bad and illegible." His n's look like r's because he doesn't quite finish making them when he writes, his sentences go off at upward angles across the page, and other problems we likely all remember having drilled out of us during handwriting lessons as kids.


But he doesn't see a problem with it because, he says, he rarely writes anything by hand outside of school. Why would he, after all, in a world centered almost entirely around screens and keyboards, especially for younger generations?

Situations like PJ's have become so commonplace that many parents and even some teachers, PJ's included, don't really worry about it anymore either. Instead, they focus on skills they view as far more relevant to our technologically advanced world, not to mention whatever technology comes down the pike in the future.

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However, handwriting is tied to everything from fine motor skills to reading ability and learning in general, and some experts think it is the key to good literacy skills.

Sure, handwriting might seem petty in a world where everything we do is typed out anyway. But experts say this actually runs counter to how our brains work, especially if we have any kind of neurodivergence


Even those who are neurotypical, however, learn best with a variety of sensory approaches — called multisensory learning. It's why you did a bit of reading, writing, speaking, listening, singing, and dancing every single day in elementary school. It's quite literally how our brains work when it comes to acquiring skills and information.



Handwriting — the hands-on act of learning a language in a physical manner — is a hugely important part of this because the interactions between the hands and eyes impact the language-processing parts of the brain. 

And that, in turn, impacts reading skills. Research has shown that practicing handwriting has a direct positive impact on literacy that keyboarding, by contrast, has been shown to lack. 




Teachers and experts say this doesn't mean kids need to go back to lessons on how to perfectly and uniformly produce letters that all look flawless, let alone learn cursive. However, learning to handwrite legibly is still important, especially since keyboarding does not seem to replicate these skills.

Keyboard skills are, of course, vitally important nowadays, too, but it seems like considering them more important might have been a mistake.


After all, keyboards have only existed for a tiny, miniscule fraction of the time we humans have existed, and our brains clearly haven't caught up yet. Teaching kids the old ways of doing things, even if they never use them, just might be the way to bridge the gap. 

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.