A Postcard for You!

I love postcards.

I love receiving them. I love sending them. I wrote several this afternoon, sitting in the September sun at the Cask Smugglers in Edinburgh. I wrote one for you…

Not my best handwriting, not my best content but I know you won’t mind. Really I just wanted to let you know I took a few minutes to think of you and to touch base.


Of course when a postcard actually lands on your doormat you can display it (I love the collection on my fridge) and every time you catch sight of it your mind will process – consciously or unconsciously – that you matter to the sender.

Sending postcards is a quick and easy way to let people know they are important to you. In this strange new world where Coronavirus has sadly brought an unnatural halt to human touch – all the ways that allow us to transfer so much positive energy… a hug… a handshake… a pat on the shoulder… a kiss on the cheek – we can and must still find ways to connect personally. So if you haven’t sent a postcard in a while, why not give it a go?

Just think for a moment…

How would you feel if you received a postcard unexpectedly?

Who are you going to send one to?

How will you feel as you walk to the pillar box and post your postcard, hearing it drop inside, knowing you’re going to make that person smile?

Aside from sending for your own reasons, it’s a great thing to model for children and to do with them. There’s not much space on a postcard so no need to worry about having to writing too much or it taking too long. Make a mistake (like I did at the end of ‘with’ when I was distracted)… never mind, the receiver will just be delighted you took the time and made the effort.

So here are a few postcard suggestions from me:

Buy Plenty

When you’re on a trip, buy a few more than you want to send. Use a couple as bookmarks in cookbooks or your latest read so that when you come across them you get an instant flashback to your happy memories.

If you are away with family or friends, buy enough to send them one some time after to reignite those shared memories, whether it’s a couple of weeks or even 5 years later! I recently came a cross some ‘spares’ I bought at an exhibition I went to with two good friends in 2015. I’m going to send one to each this week 🙂


Buy a range

You don’t just have to be limited to place postcards. How about sending…

Motivational Postcards
Why Uber & Lyft Have Entered the Medical Transportation Scene | Surgimate  Blog
Joke Postcards
Lowry Postcards
Favourite Artist Postcards

There are so many types so enjoy browsing in shops or online to choose.

Keep a stash of stamps

Make it easy to post your cards by having stamps to hand.


Send… just because

You don’t have to be on holiday to send postcards. Whether you’re on holiday, on a day trip or just sitting at home, it’s all about having the receiver in mind and reminding them they matter to you.

Now let me end by sharing a few lovely photos of Edinburgh. Maybe I’ll get them made into postcards! And maybe some time you’ll visit and send some postcards from Scotland yourself 🙂

View of the Firth of Forth walking up to Arthur’s Seat
View of Edinburgh Castle and the city from Calton Hill
Looking across to Arthur’s Seat (the peak on the left)

Do you have postcards you’ve kept?
Where from? Who from? I’d love to hear!

You can find me and let me know on Twitter:

@nicky_parr

Happy Handwriting!

It was my birthday yesterday!

I had such a lovely day and I’ll be honest, one of the things I enjoyed most was opening my cards.

You see, recognising the handwriting on each envelope and reading the handwritten messages inside brought so many smiles to my face and so many warm memories to my mind… so many stories and a sense of connection with the wonderful people I am so lucky to have in my life.

Sometimes people ask me whether handwriting has any relevance in the ‘digital age’.

Well for me it is never a question of having to choose between keyboarding and handwriting. We benefit from and can enjoy both!

I love digital communication! It’s fast and has the power to connect us across the world in a way that is absolutely incredible (and which we pretty much take for granted now).

But there’s also nothing quite like writing or receiving a handwritten card or letter. Because our handwriting is part of our identity.

It speaks of us.

It connects us.

It’s personal.

Handwriting expresses our energy… whether we’re in a rush… or relaxed and taking our time… our feelings and emotions… and our exeriences… it evolves with us and reflects the motion of our lives.

In this busy, busy world, it means a lot when someone makes the effort and takes the time to write. After all, what is really more valuable than our time?

One of the things I love about my birthday cards is knowing that, for those moments of writing, my friends and family were holding me in mind. And as I read them, I held each of them in mind. Picturing them… the last time we saw each other or spoke, the experiences we’ve shared together in the past…


Sitting in a bar on Hollywood Avenue with Ian and Jess during my first stay with them in California…


A beautiful walk at Stourhead with Martin & Lynne last year… sitting round the fire pit in their garden just a couple of weeks ago…


Marion coming to stay just before Lockdown…


Walking to school with Nia and Sue when we were children…



Sleeping off a hangover in Sue Mackett’s red mini traveller as a teenager…


My auntie buying me a beautiful dress when I was about 8… it was white and covered in tiny flowers with a pleated skirt that spun out in a full circle when I twirled around and around and around (as you do when you’re about 8!) …

My auntie is 92 now. Lockdown has been hard for her and she’s 300 miles away from me. She managed to write the envelope for my card although it was blank inside. I know her wonderful carer Brugena would have had a hand in buying and posting my card. I’m so grateful she can be there in person for my auntie when I can only be in cards and over the phone.


My wonderful children… a thousand and one memories flood my brain!!

From my daughter (my son has saved his for my visit next weekend!)

Standing outside ‘Orange Class’ with Kath in 2001, waiting for our boys to stumble out from their morning in Reception and race to the monkey bars…


The first time Maria cut my hair and I hated it! We sorted it out 🙂 I wouldn’t go anywhere else now…


So many wonderful people, each one brought to me in an instant through their handwriting. There are more I’d love to share but I mustn’t take up too much of your day. I really just want to remind you of the simple, powerful gift of connection through handwriting.

Is it something you’ve experienced?

Is it something you’d forgotten?

Is it something we’re passing on to our children?

What are we modelling for them… in our actions and with our words?

Are we helping them develop handwriting they feel good about and enjoy using?

Haha! Plenty to think about! As ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂


You can message Nicky:

nicky@betterhandwritten.com

or find her on Twitter: @nicky_parr



Handwriting Lines

Of course handwriting is about learning to form then join individual letters. But it’s also about the lines… the lines on paper that are there to guide and support letter formation are not always given the attention they deserve.

With every student I support (of every age – child and adult) I look at their use and awareness of lines.

Lots of pictures today as I share examples to get you thinking…

Note: Margins and top lines are for another day; for now let’s focus on the horizontals!

Regular Lines

You might not even consider what I call ‘regular lines’ as handwriting lines. We tend to take them for granted. Yet there’s a reason why lined paper is used over plain… to guide the flow of words so they are easier to follow. In effect they help free up space in working memory – we don’t have to commit conscious thought to keeping writing in line.

‘Regular Lines’

Many children seem to write ‘between’ the lines. This makes it harder to distinguish between ‘tall’ and ‘small’ letters and some don’t understand that ‘divers’ are allowed to break through to the line below.

Baseline: letters ‘floating’ between the lines

Letters starting to ‘sit’ on the lines

Learning to allow ‘divers’ to break through the bottom line

Special Handwriting Lines

Special handwriting lines for practice can be brilliant. They can really help children get control of letter size and position in relation to other letters. 

I use the word ‘can’ very deliberately because they can also cause problems! It’s so important that time is spent making sure children know HOW to use them. Too often it’s assumed this is obvious but it’s not as simple as it might seem. Children’s visual perception is often still developing and how they interpret using the lines varies.

Commonly used handwriting lines
Example of use

Let’s have a think about some of the issues:

Children rarely look back to the start

Sometimes an example is written at the beginning of a line for a child to follow. What can happen is that children use their own last example as the place holder for the next one they write. They don’t seem to see the lines and the writing drifts!


Trying to use handwriting lines like regular lines

Sometimes children get muddled between ‘regular’ and ‘special’ lines.

In the example on the left the child doesn’t understand the significance of the line colours and is actually writing in the wrong place.

On the right the child is using the main middle line as a regular one (well not for ‘i’ but for ‘g’ and ‘h’). The confusion affects the practice.


Unnecessary use of handwriting lines

Often I wonder why children are being asked to use special handwriting lines. I think they once they have accurate letter formation and control it would be better to practise handwriting on the regular lines they are expected to use generally.

So often I hear frustration that handwriting in practice books doesn’t translate to everyday work.

Well firstly, the task demands on working memory when focus isn’t specifically handwriting will see whatever is automated emerge.

Secondly, switching between lines takes a while for the brain to automate and adapt smoothly. It’s like switching between driving a manual and automatic car. It takes a bit of time to switch when you’ve been doing one more often than the other.

Thirdly… time. Handwriting practice is shorter and slower. We can all write with more control when we slow down.


It’s not all doom and gloom! I love handwriting lines – children just need to be taught how to use them effectively and, in my opinion, they are best used as an intervention rather than ‘just because they’re handwriting lines so that’s what we do’.

In this context I prefer (and have developed) much simpler lines for practice:

Example of a Better Handwritten practice

After watching a demonstration, the child writes between the letters so they always have a good model in view:


Let’s look at snapshot of how targeted use of handwriting lines helped this 8-year-old :

Baseline sample

Here’s how handwriting lines helped:

Practice 3

Practice 5

Practice 7

Practice 13 (back to regular lines)

After 2 months

What are your thoughts about and experiences of handwriting lines?



For more information about handwriting lines or to chat about anything handwriting-related please get in touch with me at:

nicky@betterhandwritten.com

or on Twitter: @nicky_parr

I’d love to hear from you 🙂

Perfect…Says Who?

“ k can be quite a tricky letter,” I explained in one of my feedback videos. “Let’s have a look at how you’re forming it now, then I’ll show you three ways I’ve found other people like and that work well when you want to join up.”

As you can see (and as is often the case with many letters I look at) 6-year-old Ella had developed her own representation of ‘k’ as she had perceived it. 

Here are the alternatives I modelled for her in a demonstration video so she could follow HOW they were formed. She experimented with them and decided she liked the top one best so that is the one we stuck with and practised. 

In last week’s blog – Perfect 🙂 I said I’d come back to think more specifically about individual letter formations and who gets to decide what is ‘correct’ and ‘without fault’ * when it comes to handwriting. I think this is where some of the confusion and frustration around handwriting judgement arises. 


Here’s some background to the issue:

On a very simple level, when a child forms a particular letter, they create a neural pathway in the brain. That pathway is strengthened through repetition and eventually the brain automates the process, freeing up working memory for new thinking.

I get children to imagine crossing a field of tall grass. 

To begin with it’s hard work treading down the grass but, after crossing a few times, it gets easier. Eventually (after crossing many times) a clear, definite pathway forms. They now barely notice it as they’re strolling along, and their thoughts are free to turn to other things like what they fancy eating or what game they’re going to play with their friend when they get to the other side of the field. 

This is what it’s like with handwriting (or developing any other skill or habitual thinking for that matter). Repetition leads to automation. The unconscious mind takes over.

To replace an automated formation the new version must be practised to the point where the new pathway is strong enough to supersede the existing one. This takes time of course and is the reason children revert to ‘old habits’ like reversals or spelling mistakes no matter how often they are ‘reminded’. They simply haven’t had the opportunity to practise enough. Little and often is key to success. 

(It’s also the reason I STILL revert to typing in an old password when my thoughts are elsewhere as I log in!)


Now here are the issues relating to ‘perfect’ handwriting:

The thing is, very specific teaching is effective…

Very clear, specific formation of individual letters (and then ways to join them) supports reinforcement of the pathways. 

I teach this way. I give choices where appropriate and explain (very simply) what’s happening in the brain; once we’re agreed though, we stick to it and I help children notice tiny details between formations and positioning. 

Today for example, I’ll be helping this 9-year-old notice the difference between his y and mine…

I guess this could be seen as imposing my judgement of ‘perfect’ handwriting; the fact is, letters need to be clearly identifiable so they can be read.

He’d chosen between these ‘y’s:

Once a decision is made I structure the process of repetition. Practice then allows the pathways through the field to become clear (automated) so that – in time – the writer is free to run around and play with their thoughts and words… expressing themselves without worrying about judgement of their handwriting or whether someone will be able to read it.

I talk about this to children often. I help remove stress and anxiety.

Ultimately part-cursive has been shown to be the most time-efficient script; I explain that we learn all the useful joins so that later on they will unconsciously decide which letters they do and don’t join when writing at speed. 

I also remind them that once they’ve established a fluent, cursive script they feel good about they can have fun evolving their style and experimenting with alternative formations … adding little touches of personality! They’ll end up with different styles for different audiences and purposes.

For me, ‘perfect’ handwriting, that is ‘complete and correct in every way, of the best possible type or without fault’ * is that which:

  • makes the writer FEEL GOOD 
  • is legible (to themselves and others)
  • is useful and used

To this end I think it’s the job of Primary schools to give time and focus to developing a fluent, automated cursive script and that Secondary schools should then take up the baton and support the evolution of personal style and practical application. My goals are applicable to both settings.

I agree schools should have a consistent approach. That doesn’t mean following a scheme blindly. It’s okay to offer alternative formations. Nor does it mean forcing all teachers to write in the school’s adopted script. Although this is helpful for demonstrating and many teachers choose to develop it, there are other ways to model formations to children (using the Better Handwritten videos for example). Teachers simply need to explain that they were taught and automated a different style when they were younger. They shouldn’t be made to feel bad about their handwriting. If they don’t feel good about it they can change it but if they’re happy with it they shouldn’t feel judged or criticised.

They DO need to understand how to teach handwriting well.

And they need to be aware of the powerful impact their interest or disinterest has on students.


One of my daughter’s friends came to stay last year; as we were chatting it became apparent that (aged 19) he had NEVER received a handwritten letter. Birthday and Christmas cards – yes – but never a letter.

We became pen-pals! Sometimes he’s expressed worry that I’ll judge his handwriting negatively (because of my work)… his formations and joins are not as I teach but he’s not a child learning and I can tell you, I think his writing is perfect:

  • He feels good about it
  • It’s legible
  • He’s using it and enjoying the fun and connection letter writing brings.

AND it makes me smile every time I see it on an envelope on my doormat 🙂

What makes handwriting perfect to you?


For more information on developing handwriting or the teaching of handwriting get in touch with Nicky at:

email: nicky@betterhandwritten.com

Twitter: @nicky_parr


Cambridge Dictionary Definition of ‘perfect’

Perfect :)

“I’ve hung Poppy’s lead up there, is that okay?” asked my brother. 
We’d just got back from a lovely walk and he’d headed into the house before me while I’d stopped to chat to a neighbour.

“That’s perfect,” I replied. “Thank you.”

Perfect

It’s a word I use quite often I’ve realised and, given last week’s blog where I was thinking about the damaging effect of a developing a perfectionist mindset, I decided I’d give it some attention this week and reflect on whether it’s something I might want to change. 

The model I use for helping people feel better about handwriting is one that translates to anything we want to adapt and achieve. I use it myself all the time. It works every time:

  • focus attention and notice what’s happening now
  • break down what you want to change or happen into manageable chunks
  • take small step consistent action
  • reflect often and adapt as necessary in order to achieve desired outcomes (success)

Here are the kind of things I noticed myself saying when talking to students or thinking about handwriting:

“You’re forming ‘d’ perfectly now.”

(To a 7-year-old student)

Before
After

“This handwriting is perfect for the task.”

(Thinking about Bruce Springsteen’s notes for a gig playlist)

Bruce Springsteen – Handwritten Set List From 1986 Bridge School ...


“It makes perfect sense that your brain is still going back to your old formations while you’re busy choosing words, arranging them in sentences, remembering them and spelling them. There’s a lot going on!”

(Reassuring a 7-year-old who was disappointed his practice handwriting didn’t immediately translate to his story writing handwriting)

Handwriting Practice
Free Writing

“Ahhh, what a perfect gift…how lovely!”

(Response to this message from a mum who kindly shared her birthday card from her daughter:

“Absolutely love how far she has come with her handwriting!”)

Baseline Writing
Birthday Card

“None of us have perfect ‘birthday card’ handwriting all the time. Sometimes we’re just not in the mood. Sometimes we’re annoyed and it shows in our writing. That’s okay.”

(Reflecting on ‘happy’ and ‘unhappy’ practice with a 9-year-old student)

‘Happy’ Practice
‘Unhappy’ Practice

The Cambridge Dictionary says:

Perfect (Adjective)

1 – complete and correct in every way, of the best possible type or without fault: 

2 – used to emphasize a noun: ‘That makes perfect sense.’

3 – exactly right for someone or something:  ‘You’ve done a perfect job.

2 and 3 I’m fine with, 1 needs exploring further I think. So next week I’ll look more specifically at individual letter formations and who gets to decide what is ‘correct’ and ‘without fault’ when it comes to handwriting!

For now, having given it some attention and thought, I’ve decided I’m happy saying ‘perfect’. I use it in ways that align with my intentions and beliefs. I’m aware I need to be mindful my words are received as intended though. Because each person’s interpretation of perfect will be personal, based on their experiences and their sense of self. 

For me handwriting is a means of expression, communication and support. It’s the perfect tool to be employed and enjoyed (one that is often taken for granted or dismissed as outdated). It’s a skill that should be taught well so that children and adults always have it at their fingertips with no feeling of judgement becoming a barrier to using it. Then they can get on with being perfect just as they are with one less fear and worry.


What do you think? What does perfect mean to you?

Perfection Perception Perspectives

Laura’s Story

Note: Laura isn’t one person. She’s an amalgamation of people I’ve been privileged to listen to, chat with or support over many years. Laura represents their ‘perfection perception perspectives’.

The experiences are real. Through Laura I hope to give you an opportunity to think, reflect and understand that, for some who appear ‘lucky’ and acquire skills easily, there may be a hidden price they’re paying. Laura’s need for ‘perfect’ handwriting was in fact a clue to her misguided belief that she was valued and appreciated for what she produced rather than who she was.


Laura’s world began to crumble, soon after being awarded the school’s annual coveted trophy for consistent high achievement. 

It was the culmination of a year filled with praise: verbal praise, written praise, stickers, on-line sticker trackers, praise postcards… even phone calls home. She’d crossed the end of Year 8 finish line in 1st place and been heralded as an exceptional positive role model to other students. Unwittingly though, much of this praise for external achievement had resulted in Laura feeling that everything she produced needed to be ‘perfect’. She couldn’t afford to let anything slip.

The trouble for Laura was that now – suddenly – she found she had nothing left to give. She had completely burnt out. The only way was down and that was too much to bear.

Laura didn’t return to school for the next two years.

Handwriting – her beautiful handwriting – was in fact an indicator of her inner turmoil and a contributor to that burn out.


Laura had excellent fine motor skills. She’d found it easy to develop neat, fluent cursive writing at an early age and her work was constantly praised and held up as an example of impeccable presentation for others to aspire to. As you might imagine, she’d been one of the first in her class to get a ‘pen licence’, was proud of her writing and enjoyed making her work beautiful.

Things started to get a tricky towards the end of primary school as feedback began to emerge that she was writing too slowly. Lower than expected test scores were attributed to not writing at speed. Although Laura tried to address this, it upset her when her writing looked messy and the anxiety she felt made it hard for her to focus. She became angry and unhappy but no-one could understand why. In fact, she was criticised for being miserable when she was so ‘lucky’ and others found things much harder. She began to feel she must be a bad person.


When Laura moved to secondary school, she was keen to have a fresh start, make a good impression and do well. 

She made an excellent impression and did well. Very well. Brilliantly. She seemed like a magnet for praise and recognition.

What no-one realised (because she hid it so well) was that Laura was putting herself under immense pressure to keep up the standards she felt were expected of her and that she expected of herself. Beautiful handwriting was a must and yet it became impossible to produce with the increasing demands of her schoolwork. 

So Laura found a solution. She started to get up in the night to rewrite her work. She’d set an alarm for 3am and enjoy the peace and quiet of writing without distraction. No-one knew. No-one knew either, how angry she felt when teachers ‘messed up’ the work she had painstakingly written and re-written by marking it with untidy handwriting! Laura kept this up and kept it in…

… until the end of Year 8.


I’m sure you’ll agree, we need to be careful, don’t we?

This is not okay.

We need to stop and reflect… become more aware and think about the unconscious messages we might be giving to children and young people. Actions and comments contribute to shaping their thoughts and thoughts determine their experience of the world.

Hang on a minute… isn’t your work all about helping people develop ‘perfect’ handwriting Nicky? 

No, actually it’s not.

My work is about helping people feel better about handwriting, whether that’s their own handwriting or teaching it to others. It’s true that this mostly involves helping them change the look of their script but whether that’s to make it look ‘better’ or ‘worse’ depends on the needs of the individual.

Better Handwritten has 3 clear goals. We want people to:

  • feel good about their handwriting
  • feel confident that it’s legible (to themselves and others) 
  • benefit from using a range of handwritten strategies in their everyday lives

I’ll explore the concept of ‘perfect’ more in next week’s blog but for now here’s my perspective:

I’d love to hear your stories and experiences so please do get in touch!

You can find me on Twitter: @nicky_parr

or email: nicky@betterhandwritten.com

We Need to Talk About Pen Licences

All writing must be on the line. All handwriting must be the correct size and not too big or too small. All handwriting must be joined up where appropriate. To be awarded a pen licence, the child MUST produce at least a week’s worth of work in their literacy book that fulfils all of the criteria above.

And don’t forget…

From a pen licence available to purchase online

How do you feel reading this? 

Would you qualify for a licence? Would you get to keep it?

Are these realistic expectations? 

What unconscious messages are being transmitted? 

How do you think children feel about their ability to ‘pass the pen test’? 

All children.

How might teachers feel having to implement this kind of policy?

So many questions… sorry!

Of course children who acquire fine motor skills relatively easily and whose visual perception allows them to navigate lines effectively will be fine. But they would be anyway and that’s by no means the experience for many children. 

I think we need to talk about pen licences.

I’m fascinated. As I read the above examples (and many others scattered across the internet), I felt a surprisingly powerful wave of emotion wash over me and my fingers actually began to tingle! Here’s what came to my mind:

If your handwriting does not meet the criteria…

‘Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go! Do not collect £200.’

Monopoly Will Soon No Longer Have A Jail | Jail, Monopoly party ...

You’ll be fitted with a tag on release; if you re-offend, your pen privilege will be revoked and you will be sent straight back to Pencil-ville Prison (see my word play on Pentonville Prison?) 

It might sound a little dramatic but haha, that’s what surfaced! The frequency transmitted from the policies felt loaded… so heavy and full of judgement. 

Maybe I’ve just heard too many stories about the damaging and long-lasting negative impact on those who were last in class to get their pen licence or indeed never did. 

Maybe I’ve felt too much distress and anger during conversations with parents who have seen their child’s self-esteem plummet when they are not deemed worthy of the right to write in pen. When they see their child lose hope, feel ashamed and embarrassed.

Maybe I’m too aware that the teaching of handwriting is often not really understood or delivered effectively so it’s impossible for some children to achieve these demands.

Maybe my brain has encoded the concept as something that has an unwitting potential to threaten or hurt and a protective instinct kicks in. 

Who knows?

Whatever the reason, I felt strongly as I read.

I feel strongly. About pen licences. I don’t like them. I don’t think they are necessary and I believe the damage potential far outweighs the benefit of motivation potential.

I know opinion is divided and why… so let’s talk about it. 

If you feel they’re a good thing (or are indifferent) would you be open-minded to considering an alternative opinion? We can always agree to disagree.

The longer I work with people around handwriting, the more I come to understand just how deeply emotions are connected, felt and remain. My client work becomes about so much more than how letters look on a page. In my experience, when pen licences come up they frequently trigger an outpouring of angst or anger.

Before continuing I probably ought to clarify what a pen licence is!

It’s usually a certificate or wallet-sized card (similar to a driving licence) used by some schools – still many schools, judging by a quick search on Google – to incentivise pupils and mark their transition from writing in pencil to pen.

It’s a very public comparative judgement. While the certificate itself may travel to the relative privacy of a fridge, bedroom wall, drawer or bin, the day-to-day writing implement permitted serves as a daily reminder and mark of that judgement.

I have to be honest, when I asked on Twitter how people felt about ‘pen licences’ a week before writing this article, I wasn’t expecting so many to vote:

One of my favourite quotes comes from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘There are no facts, only interpretations’.

So let’s consider the interpretations of good, bad and indifferent.

About 400 people (15%) thought pen licences were good.

My class love them! I introduced them this term and the children have responded so positively. Handwriting has really improved.

This is the kind of comment I sometimes hear. It doesn’t surprise me and I get it. Children generally love challenges and the prospect of reward and recognition. A pen licence is a carrot being dangled in front of them as motivation and inspiration.

To this end it will initially activate the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS operates as a filter for what should be processed and prioritised.

To begin with everyone appears motivated. Improvement is apparent as attention is focused. As time goes by though, as some children achieve but others don’t, as attention inevitably moves on to other things (the teacher’s as well as the child’s), the carrot too often remains out of reach. Particularly if teaching and feedback isn’t specific and delivered systematically, consistently and with understanding of all that’s involved in the learning process for handwriting. Cognitive overload related to tasks and time demands can often see children stuck, unable to affect change and with feelings of failure, frustration and disappopintment.  

Still I do understand why some people might see the model as a good one though:

  • some may have had a positive experience receiving a pen licence (either for themselves or their children)
  • they see the positives in the incentive intention 
  • they feel there is clarity about what is expected (is achievement supported effectively though?)
  • it might seem to provide evidence of high expectations from teachers and school (added bonus – Ofsted will probably like that won’t they?)

About 1400 people (52%) felt pen licences were bad. 

 “Max was last in his class to get his pen licence. He went from loving school to not wanting to go in and the very thought of writing made him angry. It made me angry. We were told handwriting improvement would just come if he practised. But it didn’t. Handwriting became a four-letter word in our household. I felt we were completely let down.” Parent

I can understand why people see the model as bad (and include my own perspectives here):

  • it discriminates against pupils who, through no fault or lack of effort on their part, are less able to control a pencil and/or influence their visual perception
  • teaching may not be effective
  • time pressure may make handwriting demands unachievable
  • criteria are unrealistic in relation to the additional demands of writing (cognitive overload)
  • it encourages perfectionism; this is damaging and I’ll blog about it next time
Extract from criteria for a ‘Platinum’ Pen Licence
  • the threat or actual loss of a pen licence and pen use is shaming
  • the model misses the point – pens are writing implements; how are children going to learn to use them effectively if they don’t have an opportunity to let their eyes, brain and hand adjust and coordinate to sensory feedback that is different to that from a pencil. You shouldn’t have to ‘earn’ the right or be ‘awarded’ them; they’re tools of the trade of handwriting
  • some children find it easier to write in pen than pencil

About 900 people (33%) were indifferent about pen licences. 

I can understand this. If you’ve never had any particularly positive or negative experiences around the concept the chances are it’s not been on your radar to consider. It was good of you to even vote to be honest. If you’re indifferent I’m guessing it seems like it could be a good idea on the face of it but you’re open to recognising it might not be for everyone? 

Maybe your opinions have shifted a little after reading. 

I’m grateful to everyone for taking the time to read and reflect. 

Please come and talk to me about it. Whether we agree or not, I’d love to hear your experiences and opinions. 

You can find me on Twitter @nicky_parr

or email nicky@betterhandwritten.com

Parent Pressures

We’re trying to remember the real positives. After…oh on Friday…when you said can you talk? I thought, I can’t – I think I’ll just be in tears. And it’s only handwriting. I thought, ugh I can’t even talk to you about handwriting… I’m too emotional about it…”

I was on a video call with Abbie a few days after I’d started working online with her eight-year-old son. 

The first couple of days had gone really well but on the aforementioned Friday I received this message along with the photo of his practice:

Straight away I’d asked if we could talk because I could feel there was a huge amount of emotion behind her message. Our call on the following Monday was a really helpful opportunity for me to listen and explain some things which helped Abbie begin to relax, trust me and trust the process. Things went well after our chat. Handwriting practice was moved to first thing in the morning after breakfast. We agreed it was hard to focus attention when her son had been concentrating online all morning (due to Lockdown) and was hungry.

Progress with Abbie’s son after 10 weeks

It’s really hard for parents. 

We want so much for our children.

Parents have their own perspective about how important handwriting is or isn’t. That perspective can change; their viewpoint is formed from personal experiences but also becomes affected by additional emotional factors, like their child’s unhappiness, anger, frustration, anxiety or distress… about pen licences… teacher concerns… fear about legibility in exams…about potential negative judgement or bias. 

It’s stressful! 

Parents want to help but often don’t actually know how to. This is sometimes reflected in feeling that they shouldn’t have to, that it’s the school’s responsibility.

When parents contact me I hear things like:

‘I feel the school should have done something sooner.’

‘I’m disappointed that nothing was flagged up.’

‘I actually feel quite let down by them.’

‘I’m concerned that teachers have allowed him to carry on writing like this for so long given that handwriting is taught in class.’

‘He says his teachers have tried but given up.’

Disappointed Stock Illustrations – 6,436 Disappointed Stock ...

I’m always a bit saddened to hear these remarks. 

I know how hard teachers work and how they want the best for their pupils. 

I know how much parents care and want the best for their children.

We need to work together.

Teachers and parents need to know how to help. That’s why I started Better Handwritten… to give guidance and support on highly effective teaching of handwriting.

Before we started working together, Abbie had done her best to help her son herself.

I tried worksheets over and over again but he didn’t engage in the task and it was a real struggle to keep him focused. I was also getting very frustrated with his writing, which (now I look back) was definitely having a negative impact on him and how he felt about handwriting.

I definitely didn’t appreciate the bigger picture of handwriting and all the things the brain has to coordinate to write. I felt like we had spent so much time practising and it was having no impact – I was starting to feel like my son was just being lazy and I must be a terrible teacher.’

Working with Abbie gave me an opportunity to help her reflect, understand and relax. I was able to provide a model that was manageable and got results. Thinking back to where we started reminds me just how many parents must be going through emotional stresses and strains trying to help their children.


I’ve actually just got off a call with Abbie! It’s nearly three months since we started working together and we’ve been looking back to that first week. I think Abbie’s words express the emotions involved for many parents so well …

I remember speaking to you in the early days and I just felt SO tearful every time we spoke, because I was finding the whole thing so emotional… I couldn’t help him. Working with you isn’t what I expected it to be. I remember thinking, you’re just here to help him with handwriting but all of a sudden you’re helping me with … almost handwriting counselling. 

I was so overwhelmed when we were first working together whereas now working on handwriting is such a pleasure. Our whole perception has just changed… how we look at it, how we take it on and how we talk about. Before the whole thing was so negative…for both of us. And it doesn’t feel like that at all any more.

It’s good to talk about handwriting. It’s good to learn about it… really understand what’s involved. We need to break down the stress barriers that are denying children AND parents the many benefits and pleasures that writing by hand can bring. Understanding is empowering.

A tag from a parent who had bought the Better Handwritten video course to use with her son.


For more information on how to support children with handwriting, contact nicky@betterhandwritten.com

High Expectations

Ofsted inspectors love high expectations. 

I’ve noticed this. I’ve read through enough reports to get a sense of how they feel about handwriting and presentation.

There are way too many to share of course but I’ve picked a few comments out of the hat:

Teachers do not have consistently high expectations of pupils’ writing. As a result, pupils’ spelling and handwriting often are not good enough.’

‘Expectations of what pupils can achieve have been too low, particularly in handwriting and presentation.’

Teachers must challenge pupils to improve their presentation when it falls below expectations.

(from 2019 Reports)

I’ve got to be honest, I have mixed feelings about the phrase ‘high expectations’ because too often it’s not clear what that means.  I understand why it’s used (and I believe I have them) but it’s a term that’s so open to interpretation. I think we need to give it some thought and have more conversations about it because in reality, some interpretations do more damage than good. In this Ofsted context, for me there’s a sharpness about it, an intensity… a judgement and criticism of teachers, which feels like pressure to put pupils under pressure…

“Max had always thoroughly enjoyed school until he hit the second part of Year 3,” Kate told me, “when the only thing his teacher ever commented on was how he had to improve his handwriting. He stopped wanting to go to school even though he loved learning and loved his friends. Feedback to us as parents was simply ‘it will come if he practises’… but it didn’t. Handwriting became a four-letter word in our house.”

3rd Desk From The Wall | I'm a teacher, again

You may not be surprised to hear that Max was the last to get his ‘pen-licence’ at the end of Year 5 and (now in Year 6) handwriting “is still a source of struggle.”

I hear so many stories like this. Aside from the child and their handwriting, the relationship between teacher and parent becomes fragile. That’s not good for anyone.

But wasn’t Max’s teacher simply ‘challenging’ him to improve his presentation and ‘having consistently high expectations’?

When it comes to handwriting, I don’t believe effective high expectations are about:

  • being ‘strict’
  • ‘telling’ children to improve
  • constantly reminding them of what’s wrong and then getting frustrated when they keep making the same mistakes
  • making them miss playtimes to rewrite things or writing something out in ‘best’ when they’ve just finished a lengthy draft.

Of course, when there’s a degree of threat involved (having to re-write or miss break) fear levels can make children more alert, and this can sharpen their short term focus, but it doesn’t make for a good relationship with writing. In fact it damages it. It’s not rocket science.

In this example can you see where the pupil attempted to go back and ‘join’ some words in his writing after finishing, to try and avoid having to write it out again. He was aware of the expectation to join but was unable to sustain joining up at the same time as formulating sentences from his thoughts.

An approach as described above tells me a teacher (or parent) doesn’t really understand (or have time to understand) what’s involved in producing the ‘expected high standard’ of handwriting: 

  • the small step development of fine motor skills 
  • the need to practice until writing becomes automated
  • the load on working memory when writing
  • the impact of anxiety on working memory
  • the impact of distraction in the environment 
  • and the emotional context for an individual

I could write a book on this but instead, just to get you thinking, I’ll share 3 suggestions for developing high expectations regarding handwriting:

  • Have them for yourself. Develop your subject knowledge around handwriting

How can you expect something of a child when you don’t really understand the issues they’re facing – the developmental, neurological and emotional factors involved?

What are you modelling and communicating in terms of your own writing, beliefs, interest and the language you use?

Confidence in your own ability transmits. It can transform you from sharing an air of frustration, disappointment, negative judgement or disinterest to one of calm reassurance, positive support and practical suggestions. You will come to embrace and trust the expression ‘Less is more’!

  • Prioritise consistent discrete handwriting practice

15 minutes a day:

5 minutes looking, discussing, thinking

5 minutes writing

5 minutes reflecting

 If it’s important to you, important enough to allocate regular time and attention, it will become important to a child. Children crave adult attention and this investment of time and focused attention is a powerful catalyst.

Work to establish a consistent routine so there’s no decision necessary (for you or a child) about whether practice will happen today or not. It just does, like brushing our teeth. That makes it easier for you and the children.

  • Be interested and have conversations

Genuinely. About handwriting but also in individuals. Build in elements that let them know you know them.

In this practice for example, I’ve included the name of a video game (Fortnite) that I know the student likes. I’ve also included places that he’s connected to.

Be interested rather than judgemental.

Thinking back to the example of the posthumous joining:

“Ahh I can see what’s happened here. You had so much to think about – choosing words and making sentences that there wasn’t enough thinking space for remembering to join up all your handwriting. Isn’t it interesting to see?! Don’t worry for this piece. If we were going to put it on the wall we’d find time to copy it out but I was perfectly able to read it. You explained your thinking really well.”

Something along those lines. You get the idea.

As I said I could go on, but for now I hope you can find a little time to reflect on what high expectations in handwriting mean for you. Please go and enjoy having some conversations about it!

Judgement Day

“Excuse me!” She ran down the corridor after me. 
“I just wanted to ask, if you have time, could you come back and show me your handwriting please? It’s just I’ve never met a handwriting specialist before and I’d really like to see your writing.”

And there it was. Impending judgement. My stomach dropped a little as I processed her words. 

I reminded myself that it was perfectly reasonable for this teacher to be interested (or was she feeling defensive I wonder?) … and also perfectly natural for me to be alert to judgement. It’s a very human thing isn’t it, judging and feeling judged? 


Job titles are necessary and useful in helping people begin to understand what we do, but I’m always aware that mine brings certain expectations with it. Expectations that mean my handwriting is gonna be judged – obviously!

It’s interesting because my work really isn’t about MY handwriting, it’s about my ability to help other people with theirs… teaching them and helping them develop a script they feel good about, is legible and useful (and helping other teachers do that too). Of course, how my writing looks is part of the evidence base; I understand that. 

It’s good to be conscious because judgement is what so many children and adults feel when it comes to handwriting. 

It can make them not want to write. 

It can make them feel frustrated, angry, embarrassed and self-conscious.

It can raise anxiety levels, taking up precious space in working memory that is needed for so many other things.

Or

It can make them want to write more.

It can make them feel proud and confident.

It can also tip into influencing aspirations for perfection which become impractical or even damaging.

Judgements can make us feel bad OR good and they influence our behaviour.

I’ll share some stories of people who have been affected by judgement of their handwriting in my forthcoming blogs.


I replied honestly.

“Haha, people often seem to imagine I’m going to have some amazing calligraphic style. I’m sure they’re either disappointed or unimpressed by how regular it is! It’s neat (when I want it to be), it’s cursive (when I want it to be)… but it’s not calligraphy!”

My general style is the product of continually modelling for others – I often wish it had a bit more flair and personality!

My styles are also the product of how I’m feeling or the task I’m undertaking. 

Styles. Plural. A spectrum.

I guess I’d better show you my writing then. Let’s get it over with!

If you can, tune in to your thoughts, whatever they may be. Notice what you hear yourself thinking…

“Well that’s nothing special,” or

“What a mess!” or

“It’s quite nice,” or

“Mine’s better,” or

“I wish my writing was neater,” or

“Who cares about handwriting anyway?” or 

…something else.

Note how I’ve been lowering your expectations… a useful strategy when we feel vulnerable to potentially negative judgement.

Ready?

Here we go!

So there you go. Eight shades of ‘✍🏼 Nicky Writing’. There are more (maybe not fifty) but you get the idea.

So what do you think of my handwriting? What’s your opinion? Your judgement?

And how do you feel about yours?

PS Did you notice how I started off with my messiest styles then built up to my neater ones? 😉

Come and tell me on Twitter @nicky_parr

or email me: nicky@betterhandwritten.com

Next week I’ll be sharing my thoughts about teacher expectations when it comes to handwriting.