It’s All in the Finger (Or Why Writing is So Hard for My Boys)

by Melissa on May 24, 2010

“That males have many more problems with penmanship than females is not even a question. It is one of the better established facts in the literature.” –Steven Graham, scholar and special education professor at the University of Maryland

I was on the phone with a dear friend yesterday. She was telling me that her class was having a hard time with writing.

“Isn’t your class mostly boys?” I asked. She teaches K-1.

“Yes,” she answered. “Does that matter?”

Oh, does it ever! In Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax writes that many five-year-old boys just don’t have the fine motor skills necessary to write the letters of the alphabet. . . Virginia Tech researchers found that boys are years behind girls in development of the area of the brain responsible for fine motor skills.”

In fact, after reading Boy Writers by Ralph Fletcher, I did the same experiment with my boy writers that he did: I got curious and started asking my boys what the hardest part of writing was for them. Many responded in a similar way to the boys that Fletcher interviewed, and complained that writing makes their hand hurt.

Talk to any teacher or parent and you’ll hear that boy’s penmanship is, on average, much messier than girls. If our goal is to get boys to enjoy writing, an act that is physically painful for some of them, we need to get creative. If your son or boy student is experiencing this problem, I hope that you’ll try the tip I offered my friend when we spoke yesterday.

Takeaway Tip: Buy your boy writers all different types of pens and pencils with different grips. Have them experiment until they find the writing tool that they can write with the most quickly and easily.

Remember, kids (and adults) enjoy doing things that are pleasurable. If we want our boys to enjoy writing, this small trick might help set them on the path to do just that!

Worried about them writing with pen? Teach them how to neatly cross out mistakes. Building fluency so that their writing can keep up with their thoughts is critical for beginning boy writers!

Invitation: Have you tried this trick with your boys? If so, how did it work? We’d love to hear back from you.

Most people that are unaware of this difference in why boys and girls write differently often equate this difference to laziness, when it’s not their fault! Help us get the word out!

Melissa is the founder of Tandem Teaching and teaches in the inner-city. She blogs weekly about tips parents can implement to enhance their connection with their children and ways to bring out their children’s inherent gifts. Contact her for a private consulting session.


Jim May 24, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I wonder if it’s even more difficult for left-handers? They have to push as opposed to pull. I’m a lefty and I’ve been pushing all my life!

Katie May 24, 2010 at 5:40 pm

I have a really strange grip that makes it hard for me to write for long periods at a time, maybe it’s because my mom (who’s a lefty) taught me how to write… I could have really benefitted from experimenting with different writing implements (I love any opportunity to use that ridiculous term) to see what was most comfortable. Boy or girl, it’s a great idea!

Heather May 24, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Thanks Melissa. Good suggestion. My little one is much more interested in writing now that he is nine but it did hurt him when he was starting. He still is messy but getting the words out is more important to us now then how it looks. We did try some different grips and pencils as well. This totally helped us.