Kids: handwriting vs lettering skills, why both are important

Continuing from my last post, another skill that I feel is important for kids to learn is lettering by hand. Not just hand writing, but being allowed to be creative with letters.

This dawned on me a few months ago. My eldest is learning to write, and he enjoys writing the letters in his name into different shapes, rather than just in a straight line (or in the corner of a piece of paper, as expected by teachers). What he does with his letters is clever – I see the beginnings of logo design. This is unsurprising in some ways, as he sees what we’ve been working on in the studio often, and we talk about our work.

The hard bit is, that being creative with letters is not a part of learning to write. There are expectations around conforming – and there’s good reasons for this. We need to learn to write so people can read what we’ve written, easily and quickly. There are implied basic standards for writing – left to right, on a straight line, with sentence structure and correct grammar.

The sad part is that the way writing is taught, is that it becomes a chore to write, and the creativity is only in the words we use (think writing fictional stories), but not the way we use letters (think logos or poster design). Lettering is not widely seen as art, apart from in the design industry, and I find that very limiting.

I was lucky as a kid – I was gifted books on calligraphy, fonts and hand lettering. But in a normal school environment, kids are unlikely to have the same access to this kind of inspiration. I wish that there were two types of lettering taught in schools: handwriting, and letters as art.

Limiting creativity in young kids is what I want to avoid. Creativity leads to so much more than “cool drawings”, it is a space to learn critical thinking and hone problem solving skills. It builds fine motor skills.

So my eldest is being taught why we conform for handwriting, while given a separate outlet for his creative lettering. I want him to experiment. To go through the process of learning the shapes of letters and pushing them to their extremes. To not lose his creative ideas because it’s creative thinking that will shape the world in years to come. Ideas come from thinking differently, not from conforming. And hand lettering is one of the starting points of that thinking.