My 12-year old daughter recently received her Pen License in school. To say she was ecstatic is an understatement. “I got my pen license,” was the first thing she said to me at the school gate, grinning ear to ear. Then she called her dad and grandparents; told our nanny and proceeded to remind us of this achievement at every opportunity afforded to her.
The immense joy and pride she showed at getting the Pen License made me look up why it was such a big deal for kids. What does a Pen License really mean to a child?
First, let’s answer a basic question, what is a Pen License?
A pen licence is a formal recognition by a class teacher which grants permission to their pupil to use a pen once their handwriting is regarded as being of a good standard. It was introduced in 2014 in the National Curriculum of the UK, requiring children to be able to produce ‘fluent, legible and, eventually, speedy handwriting’.
In this age of digitization, does a child need a Pen License or handwriting skills?
Angela Webb, chair of the National Handwriting Association says, “Despite the increase in digital technology, handwriting is still an essential skill, not only for presentation reasons, but also because of the benefits to a child’s cognitive development.”
Handwriting activates the brain more than keyboarding because it involves more complex motor and cognitive skills. It contributes to reading fluency because it activates visual perception of letters. Interacting with each letter in many different physical ways helps students imprint and retain the letters and the letter sounds for easier recall when learning to read. Learning letters on a screen engages at most two physical channels: the eyes and the fingertips. It is not possible to tell one letter from another by the shape of the keys. But learning letters through writing them involves numerous tactile experiences, engaging the fine-motor muscles of the fingers and hand, and larger muscles of the arm and body, as well as the eyes.
How your child earns their pen licence?
Some of the skills that children may need to demonstrate to earn a pen licence include:
- Using a correct pencil grip
- Writing on the line
- Joining letters correctly
- Starting each letter in the correct place
- Keeping letters the same size
- Forming letters with the correct shape
- Leaving appropriate gaps between words
- Ensuring that ascending and descending strokes are the right length
- Writing clearly enough for other people to read their work
Teachers will usually assess children’s work over a number of weeks to decide whether they’re ready for a pen licence, rather than basing their decision on a one-off handwriting test. Pen licences formalise the transition from pencil to ink, and the prospect of earning a pen licence is used by teachers as a motivator to encourage children to develop the required standard of handwriting.
What happens if a child cannot write neatly?
Schools usually don’t have standardised methods to teach handwriting. Teachers often tell children to ‘keep practising’ or to ‘slow down’ which makes little or no difference as the child has no structured guidance to follow. Children can start to hate literacy purely as a result of their poor penmanship.
Some schools award a pen licence automatically in year 6, regardless of their level of handwriting. This is confusing as the message given to the child is that they have achieved an acceptable level of handwriting, whereas, in reality, this is often the opposite.
So, how can you help your child gain their pen licence?
With time and practice, most children will develop their own handwriting style that works in both pencil and pen. However, some children need a little extra help to neaten their handwriting. It is important to have a consistent approach throughout the process.
This is where the experience of a handwriting coach is essential. A professional handwriting coach will know how to guide your child on patters, shapes of letters, sizing, spacing and eventually speed. He / she will introduce both, print and cursive styles giving the child the freedom to choose and then perfect their preferred style.
Transitioning from pencil to paper is an exciting moment in a child’s life. It means more than just “I can write neatly” – for them it is an acknowledgement of their maturity (growing up) and a status symbol of intellect and ability in their eyes and those of their peers. Since it has the potential to affect their confidence and self-esteem, it should be approached with thought and care.