Handwriting in the Montessori Classroom

Handwriting in the Montessori Classroom

If you’ve ever dove into the world of Montessori, you’ll know that neat handwriting is considered a priority. While that’s all well and good, we need to rethink how we teach it in order to make it more inclusive for all types of learners. If we don’t, we risk pushing diverse types of learners out of our Montessori classrooms for good. 

Why do we teach handwriting?

We teach the skill of handwriting to help children learn to communicate legibly and transfer ideas that are in their head onto paper. It’s an important skill that students will take with them throughout their lives. 

What’s the problem with requiring neat handwriting?

If neat handwriting is a skill that students will carry with them as they grow, why is requiring it an issue? 

When we say, “it’s important that all children write neatly,” we push children who may not be able to do so out of the Montessori classroom. The message that we’re sending is that Montessori education has created a factory model. You must operate like this and meet these criteria to be a Montessori student. However, that isn’t at all what Montessori learning was founded upon. 

If we continue to require neat handwriting, students with diverse learning needs may find themselves frustrated and unable to communicate. This creates a hostile learning environment for the child, and that’s not what Montessori is all about! 

How to Make Handwriting in the Montessori Classroom Inclusive

Thankfully there are ways that  we can make handwriting in Montessori classroom inclusive for all types of learners. Here are some ideas:

    • Using devices and tech tools - some children best communicate through devices. Students can download assistive technology apps to help bring their writing to life such as Voice to Text, Clicker, or WordQ. 
    • Giving students outlined notes - allow students to fill in portions of notes or writing activities instead of forcing them to write the entire thing. This still gives them practice with handwriting while making tasks less overwhelming. 
    • Providing extra time - know that some students may need additional time to get their thoughts onto paper and that’s okay. Give them the time they need to do so. 
    • Offering clear guidelines - Consider providing students with a visual that shows them how long their writing should be. Adjust this accordingly to meet each student’s individual needs. You can also break student writing into steps to help them focus on little chunks at a time. Having clear guidelines makes writing less daunting.
    • Using alternative types of resources - allow students to write using paper with raised lines. This helps them form letters by giving them lines as a guide. Also consider making highlighted lines as a guide for students.
  • Providing different types of writing tools - pencil grips and various types of writing tools can make the difference for students who need additional support with writing. 

  • Please note that just because we provide alternative options for our students doesn’t mean we are giving up on handwriting. According to Pollock & Missiuna, “A healthy balance needs to be achieved between the content that is to be learned and the written product that results. For example, if the goal is to improve handwriting then the product should be handwritten, if the goal is to display the learning that has been mastered, there is no necessity for it to be handwritten.”

    Now that we know that handwriting should instead be required based on the task and have recognised the barriers requiring neat handwriting can bring about, it’s time for us to make changes to minimise these disparities in the Montessori classroom.

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    My 14 year old was not permitted to go from K to 1st in the private school his 4 siblings attended. When I asked why, the first reason given was, " his handwriting is not good enough". For a child who had only been using cursive for 7 months. And he couldn’t spell well, and “sometimes he colors outside of the lines”, ( yes, that was said!). But I was encouraged to get help from the public school who taught no handwriting at all ( a few hours of review was all)- and it was print only, not the cursive he had been learning. I recommend looking into the work of Virgina Berninger, Phd who wrote a test called PAL II RW for Pearson and also an intervention for handwriting, writing, and reading. Handwriting needs to be taught and practiced intentionally. I have used Peterson Directed Handwriting and Slingerland Institute. They are unique, but both stress big motor movements BEFORE working on smaller, more normal patterns. When I took a Slingerland class, we made our hand. into the shape one uses to trace the sandpaper letters: First two fingers together, with thumb holding down the other two. With an arm held straight out at the shoulder we would then trace( draw) the letter shape in the air, so the movement came from the shoulder, not the elbow. We were told using two fingers activated the muscles on both sides of the arm, ( if we used just one finger, like many handwriting programs do- it would only activate the muscles on one side of the arm). What both Slingerland and Peterson do is stress going with big movements first in the air before committing to paper. Montessori with sandpaper letters does help, but the texture of the sandpaper was too much for my sensory adverse child. I think adding the large motor movements, stressing the rhythm of handwriting, and seeing automaticity in handwriting is important. Adding a pre test of writing a few letters, timing it, and doing that every few months so the child sees their progress is also important.

    Kerri L Hayward

    Thank you so much for this article! My son started his Montessori Education Adventure at age 2 months. At 5.5 years old he was diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and dysgraphia. After receiving this diagnosis our son’s Montessori school promptly graduated him from Children’s House and did not invite him to Early Elementary. We were all heartbroken. My son flourished intellectually in the Montessori environment. I am not a trained teacher of any kind. We have tried many different schools and have concluded homeschool is the most supportive for now. As a new homeschool mom trying to provide a supportive and somewhat Montessori environment for my son, I’m deeply appreciative of all articles written about Montessori and the neuro-diverse learner. They give me some direction in how to implement Montessori for my son. I can understand how to be supportive without doing it all for him. Our family needs this.

    Iola Hallock

    Thank you so much for supporting what I always believed. No two learners are the same. Fine motor control appears to be so challenging for many more students in the primary grades.
    You offered wonderful helpful hints for the differently baked learner.
    Thank you so much.


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