Young girls in the elementary schools usually have far better handwriting than the boys in the same classes. This is so common, and so well recognized, that there are many academic articles and some books on the subject of the difficulties boys have with penmanship. The observations are so evident that the discussions are usually oriented toward figuring out why boys have difficulty with handwriting and what methods may be used to correct or overcome the problem.
Reading a few sample pages from Ralph J. Fletcher’s Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, sets out many aspects of the classroom differences that lead to boys being less skilled at handwriting. There is an accurate perception that boys develop the fine motor skills necessary to hold a pen or pencil as much as six years later than girls. And then for boys to make correctly shaped symbols in specific horizontal alignment is even more difficult. It seems that boys develop the larger muscle mass for upper body strength before their brains can precisely control the movements of the smaller muscles in the wrists and fingers. There is also scientific analysis demonstrating that a boy’s brain develops many of the abilities for handwriting much later than a girl’s brain. A group that promotes separate schools for boys and girls, National Assoc. for Single Sex Public Education cites research by Harriet Hanlon, Robert Thatcher and Marvin Cline that details the differences in boy and girl brain development. Clearly, then, there are some measurable differences in muscle growth and brain development that result in the broad, general perception that a large percentage of boys are not capable of even average handwriting skills until a few years later than the early grades at school.
Even after the physiological and neurological differences are accounted for, there are some education professionals who tend to believe that attempting to teach young boys good penmanship may help develop their fine motor control skills. This is a controversial approach. Other educators, and many psychologists, perceive teaching penmanship to boys as a poor use of classroom resources, a source of frustration and a cause of embarrassment to those who may not be able to succeed.
There are also some educators and social observers who believe that the difficulties for boys to learn handwriting skills may be wiped out by the possibly “inevitable” conversion to keyboards. Penmanship may become as archaic as cuneiform tablets and hieroglyphics.
At present, however, girls can and do have better handwriting than boys for the two well-supported reasons of muscle growth and brain development.