New ideas about literacy learning

Give children their playtime. The relations of physical activities and writing

Children playtime

Conventionally, many believe that reading numerous books is the first step to be a good writer. Sometimes, parents even deprive their children of playtime to ensure they have time to read more books. One of my greatest challenges in life is dysgraphia, also known as writing difficulties. I tried many methods to improve my writing skill, and reading was not always an effective method for me.

We often ignore simple things that are important. What sometimes comes earlier than the words when children are learning to write are the hand movements. In order to improve children’s writing ability, we should not only focus on their language knowledge; their handwriting skills, the motor aspect of writing, also need to be developed. Handwriting consists of very complex hand movements, and therefore demands a mature fine motor ability. Children need to have a precise motion planning for how the words are formed, a good control of the pen, and a clear understanding of space. Poor fine motor ability is often considered to be an indicator of writing difficulties. For example, I have dysgraphia, and one of my writing difficulties is due to my poor motor control. I used to write very slowly, and my writings have poor legibility. About 5% to 33% of school-aged children also have a certain degree of handwriting difficulties. If the problem is left untreated, most of the handwriting difficulties will persist. Therefore, we should not overlook the importance of motor abilities in children’s writing training.


Psychomotor training is often used to help children with writing difficulties. Some of these psychomotor training tasks are very simple, for example running, skipping rope, throwing balls, jumping on a trampoline etc. You will find these trainings quite ordinary. Some of them are just activities children do in their playtime. Will these normal physical activities achieve some positive results related to better writing?


Researchers from Finland examined this issue and found that regular physical education lessons can result in improvement similar to psychomotor training. Rintala’s research team carried out an experiment with 54 children with developmental language disorder and movement difficulties. Half of the group was trained with psychomotor training and the other half was trained with regular physical education lessons. The physical education lessons followed the normal curriculum and did not have a specific training aim. All the students acquired significant improvement in writing, though the psychomotor training group performed slightly better.


This implies that physical activities may play an important role in children’s normal motor development. I have some personal experience in that I saw a significant improvement in my own writing after I learned guitar. Although playing the instrument does not seem to have a direct relation with writing, it does involve a lot of fine motor skills training. This common factor may create a facilitating relationship between the two skills. The same may go for children’s playtime and writing. The physical activities children engage in should enhance children’s motor abilities. Sacrificing children’s playtime may not be worth the pain. Children’s writing development can be hindered if their motor abilities are not properly developed.


This article was written by our guest blogger Mr. CHEUNG, Hong Kei Edmond. Mr. Cheung is currently a research assistant in the Life Span Development Laboratory of The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Our Guest Blogger

Mr. CHEUNG, Hong Kei Edmond, BSsc. (CUHK)

Research assistant, Life Span Development Laboratory

Department of Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong